Maritime autonomous navigation system gets boost from AI with collision avoidance, optimal route planning and steering control features

Dohyeong Lim, CEO of Hyundai Avikus

November 21, 2023

2 Min Read
The Maersk Skarstind container ship sails towards the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City on Oct. 22, 2023, as seen from Bayonne, New Jersey.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Mention AI and lumbering container ships are perhaps not the first application to come to mind. But just like most industries, shipping is profoundly affected by the rapid innovation in AI.

As CEO of Avikus - a Korean start-up spun out of HD Hyundai, the world’s largest shipbuilder, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on the future of autonomous navigation.

At Avikus, we are on a mission to make marine transport safer and more environmentally sustainable by harnessing the power of AI. 

Start with safety. As many as 80-90% of maritime accidents are due to human error. The cost is enormous, whether in terms of economic damage, environmental damage and in some cases, tragically, the loss of human life. 

Next, consider environmental sustainability. Maritime emissions alone are responsible for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – 50% more than aviation. To make this more specific, one 984-foot-long ship typically consumes 50 to 60 tons of fuel per day.

A typical Panamax size container ship can consume 63,000 gallons of fuel per day! Reducing fuel consumption even by a small percentage therefore has a large impact on total emissions.

So, how does AI come into play?

Over the past 10 years, Hyundai and Avikus have honed capabilities in camera vision and sensor fusion technology to develop an autonomous navigation assistance system incorporating features such as collision avoidance, optimal route planning and steering control. In a trans-Pacific sailing in 2022, the Avikus system identified more than 100 potential collision hazards and took corrective action successfully. In addition, fuel efficiency was improved by 7% through fully optimized speeds and control. 

Related:Hyundai’s LNG Carrier Makes First Transoceanic Voyage Using Autonomous Navigation

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has defined four different levels of progressively higher autonomy. Avikus has already commercialized technology at level 2, in which the system performs recognition/judgment/control but the navigator remains responsible. In level 3, the human navigator only intervenes in emergency situations. Ultimately, level 4 entails full autonomy. 

It’s difficult to predict the exact timing of future developments. The hurdles are not only on the technological side – international consensus is also required on numerous legal frameworks governing shipping. However, Avikus had already secured orders for its technology to be installed on more than 300 commercial ships, so the market interest and demand are clearly there. In parallel, we are actively developing an autonomous system for recreational boats that will bring the benefits of autonomy to a wider audience. 

When was the last time you backed into a parking space without relying on the surround-view cameras to make sure you stayed within the space? Soon enough, similar technology will be available for boats – and that’s just the beginning.

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About the Author(s)

Dohyeong Lim

CEO of Hyundai Avikus

Dohyeong Lim is the CEO of HD Hyundai Avikus. Lim was previously head of the autonomous ship research department at Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. (2020), head of digital technology research center at Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. (2018~2019) and head of the dynamics research department at Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. (2000~2017)

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