Japan plans to make 50% of domestic fleet unmanned by 2040

Japan has doubled up on its efforts to be a leading cluster developing autonomous and unmanned ships, with plans to make up to half its 4,000 domestic vessels unmanned in 20 years. The wealthy Nippon Foundation has backed the DFFAS Project which sees 22 Japanese companies collaborating across five different themes. DFFAS stands for Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship and its aim is to realise a business case for domestic coastal shipping. It projects that by 2040 up to 50%, with 10% being unmanned within the decade, where the country will begin even retrofitting existing vessels to be crewless.


One aspect of the project announced by Japan Marine Science Inc which is the project lead is to conduct the world’s first successful crewless maritime autonomous surface ship demonstration by 2025 and a demonstration trial of a domestic coastal container ship in Japanese waters.

This work puts pressure on other countries such as Norway, Finland, Denmark, South Korea and China which has also pushed the unmanned boat out and stated they seek to be leaders in autonomous technology.


In Norway the Yara Birkeland has already been constructed and is currently being fitted although final deployment has been postponed by owner and cargo owner Yara International. However the plan with Yara Birkeland which will also sail only in local waters, is to sail the vessel manned before going remote control and then autonomous shortly after.


South Korea recently announced a huge boost for its research into autonomous vessels, while here are already a growing range of autonomous unmanned surface craft around the world.


The decision to focus on domestic vessels makes sense according to experts as this reduces investment costs and risk, as well as ensures there are fewer International regulations for the vessels to adhere to.


A number of Japanese companies are already promoting their participation in the project. Project leader JMC recently announced the successful testing of a tug as part of the Japanese Government’s Sea Trial on remote control navigation.


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