HHI's Avikus sails itself from the marina and back, docking and all
INCHEON — When a button was pressed on a control tablet, the 9-meter (29-foot) Quicksilver coolly plied the waters off of Yeongjong Island with nary a helmsman at the wheel.
The boat was its own skipper.
Equipped with Avikus autonomous navigation technology, the boat left the dock at Wangsan Marina, Incheon, did a wide loop in the calm shallows of the Yellow Sea and returned to the other side of the dock and docked itself.
Avikus, subsidiary of Hyundai Heavy Industries specializing in autonomous navigation technology, was holding a demonstration of its first fully autonomous leisure boat.
"If you mark the destination on an electronic chart, the boat automatically finds the optimal route and begins navigation accordingly," said Lee Jun-sik, recreational boat solution team leader at Avikus. "It's like entering a destination into Tesla's navigation system and driving in autonomous driving mode."
When Lee entered a route around the Wangsan Marina dock on a tablet, the optimal route immediately appeared on the screen. The screen blinked information about the route, telling passengers that the entire ride would be 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles). A passenger volunteered to press the "Start Autonomous Mode" button on the tablet, and the boat left the dock and set off.
There was no one sitting in the captain's seat, but the boat sailed smoothly. Lee explained that the boat was equipped with six surround cameras, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and augmented reality technology.
"We've input more than 150,000 images into the boat's data system," Lee said. "This allows the boat to recognize any obstacles or other vehicles that may approach during the ride."
Five minutes into sailing, when another boat approached the Avikus, it turned sideways to avoid collision, correcting its course. Passengers could see the modified route on the tablet in real time.
This system, called the Hyundai Intelligent Navigation Assistant System (HiNAS), was developed by Avikus in April last year. So far, six boats equipped with HiNAS have been delivered from Hyundai Heavy Industries to various countries, while an additional order of 70 ships have been received this year.
The boat reached a speed of 5 knots (9.26 kilometers per hour) and sailed around the Wangsan Marina dock. Passengers could see a full 180-degree view of the boat's path through two side screens attached at the left and right side walls in the inside of the boat. The speed of the boat could also be controlled through the tablet. Lee pressed hit a "plus" sign on the tablet, and the boat sped up to 7 knots (13 kilometers per hour).
After a full circle around Wangsan Marina that took about 20 minutes, the boat slowed down and began its way back into the dock.
"This boat has better docking skills than I do," Lee commented, who holds a piloting license, as the boat made its final course.
"By using autonomous navigational technology in leisure boats, users can greatly reduce the time required for berthing and unberthing as well as the risk of accidents during operation," said Lim Do-hyeong, CEO of Avikus, in a press conference afterwards. "There is no other company in the shipping industry that is developing autonomous unmanned ships like we are."
Avikus has sold 210 Level-1 autonomous boats so far, the most of any company. Autonomous boats are divided into four levels by the International Maritime Organization depending on how autonomous they are. Level-2 boats only require human assistance in emergency situations. Level 3 allows for remote control of boats. Level 4 boats do not require human intervention.
Avikus plans to take part in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in Florida this October to showcase its Level 2 autonomous boats. Lim announced that Avikus is planning to market Level 2 autonomous boats by the first half of next year.
Avikus and Hyundai Heavy Industries are developing technology for leisure boats because the commercial market is not big enough. Only about 500 high value-added vessels, such as LNG ships and eco-friendly carriers, are ordered every year. Even if Avikus manages to sell their autonomous navigation technology to all 500 ships, the volume is too small.
"In comparison, the market for leisure ships is much bigger and has a lot of potential," said Lim. "There are about 10 million leisure boats worldwide. Those who own leisure boats are affluent and tend to be open to new technologies. This is a good target for us."
Avikus was found by Hyundai Heavy Industries in December 2020 to help advance and deepen technologies and expertise related to autonomous ships.
"There is still a long way to go for the development of autonomous ships," said Lim. "And naval officers won't disappear even if autonomous ships are commercialized. It has been 20 years since autonomous driving technology came out, but we still have taxi drivers. It will be the same for autonomous ships."
BY LIM JEONG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]