Ship part

Hyundai Cargo Ship in the Pacific just completed the first autonomous long-haul

Proponents of autonomous vehicles often cite improved efficiency as the reason operators are giving up control. They don’t just have their eyes on the road either, as a Hyundai-built freighter made a pioneering journey across the Pacific this month controlled by autonomous navigation technology. The trip was a success, especially since it saved a significant amount of fuel, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The voyage was made by Prism Courage, an “ultra-large” liquid natural gas carrier operated by SK Shipping and built by Avikus, a subsidiary of HD Hyundai. The tanker was equipped with the company’s HiNAS 2.0 technology, a Level 2 ocean navigation automation suite broadly analogous to the same level of SAE range in cars. It requires human supervision but allows a degree of hands-off operation, in the case of a vessel automating navigation to account for weather conditions, wave heights and nearby marine traffic. Like equivalent automotive systems such as GM’s Super Cruise, it does not cruise itself in itselfbut he does a lot of heavy lifting for his crew, and on his journey has shown himself capable of doing so for long periods of time in a live environment.

HiNAS has proven itself on a 33-day trip from the Gulf of Mexico to Boryeong LNG Terminal in Korea, sailing through the Panama Canal. Along the way, the system’s performance was monitored in real time by the American Bureau of Shopping and the Korean Register of Shipping, both of which sought to determine the technology’s performance and reliability.

Prism Courage only covered about half of the 20,000 kilometer distance with the autonomous system active. Avikus did not specify where it was used, probably more on the high seas than in complex and busy expedition centers. Still, it gave the company the honor of making the first autonomous transoceanic voyage in a large merchant ship, allowing it to demonstrate the technology’s potential in the process. HD Hyundai claimed a 7% increase in fuel efficiency on the Prism Courage trip, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, while safely avoiding around 100 potential collisions.

Avikus expects the trip to achieve HiNAS 2.0 certification with ABS that will enable commercialization of the system, which the company is already preparing for by touting HiNAS to address labor shortages and improve security. Emissions reductions, of course, would seem to justify the system on their own, as shipping is a major source of unrecognized air pollution. Even if you don’t understand the science behind climate change, you’ll still appreciate the improvements in fuel efficiency as petroleum product prices soar. Consumers always feel the effects of price increases at the end of the day.

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