Brotherhood forever: Russia and China join hands for a-navigation development
“Cooperation in autonomous navigation can open a new chapter in the history of seaborne transport, not only in China and in Russia, but worldwide”, Alexander Pinskiy, Head of MARINET Industry Association, said at the Russia-China summit on scientific and technological cooperation in smart shipping and autonomous navigation.
The forum held via videoconference on 25 August 2021 was attended by the heads and experts of the leading companies and scientific centers of China and Russia: China Association of National Shipbuilding Industry, Harbin Engineering University, Wuhan University of Technology, Leading Laboratory of Smart Systems and Technologies under China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Leading Laboratory of Smart Technologies and Application of shipboard equipment and Seaborne Facilities under China’s Ministry of Education, Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, China Classification Society, China Navigation Society, Center of International Economic and Technical Cooperation under China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Shanghai Merchant Ship Design & Research Institute, Corporation Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, COSCO, Asia-Pacific Broadband Satellite Communication, Saint Petersburg State Polytechnic University, Russian University of Transport, Sitronics KT JSC, Special Projects Research Institute, Russian Satellite Communications Company FSUE. IAA PortNews correspondent took part in the forum upon invitation of the event organizers.
When greeting the conference participants, Academician Yan Xinping, Chinese Academy of Engineering, reminded that the year of 2021 had been announced the year of Russia-China scientific, technological and innovative cooperation.
In his opening speech, Li Yanqing, Chairman of ISO/TC8, Secretary General of China Association of National Shipbuilding Industry, told about the current status of the domestic shipbuilding industry. For 11 consequent years China has been the major shipbuilding country able to build ships of any type. Its production volume exceeds 55 million deadweight tons per year. The full cycle of the product creation from R&D to construction and operation allows to follow the latest trends of the industry development through introduction of innovations complying with the recent requirements to sophisticated seaborne facilities. According to Li Yanqing, the today’s priority of shipbuilding development in China is the creation of a green and smart ship and the country has already established a substantial scientific and technical groundwork. The speaker emphasized the significance of international cooperation and close interaction between the industry, universities and research organizations for a further efficient work based through experience exchange and research collaborations.
Tsai Yuliang, Director, Science & Technology Innovation and Test Center of China Classification Society, underlined the role of virtual modelling and field tests for checking the new systems that a principal for safe navigation. “Artificial intelligence technologies are unaccountable and unpredictable, which is crucially different from the conventional navigation technologies. Our task is to ensure at least the same or even higher level of navigation and environment protection as compared to the current one that meets the existing conventions and regulations”, he said.
According to the strategic programme “Made in China 2025”, the key focus of shipbuilding industry in China is on development of smart technologies. Digital navigation strategy supported by the International Maritime Organization is being actively implemented by specialists of Harbin Engineering University. Professor Zhu Qidan, Director of Intelligent Control Institute, told about the current achievements of the large-scale project on development of onboard systems of artificial intelligence and remote control. The research is divided into three phases between 2020 and 2040. The first phase is focused on development of decision-making algorithms for onboard control and operation of ships. The second phase starting in 2025 envisages the development of digital twin technologies for shore based remote control systems. By 2040, the scientists plan to complete field tests of the newly created systems and practice anti-collision/docking/entering/exiting maneuvers in autonomous mode. To implement those tasks, a new smart research ship was created and fitted with a dynamic positioning system, active system for vibration reduction, engine problem diagnosis system, situation awareness system, autonomous navigation system with a shore based control center.
In Russia, autonomous navigation programme is being implemented from 2019 under the aegis of MARINET Industry Association with the support of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. By today, close cooperation of Russian designers and ship owners resulted in a unique in its scope pilot project for a-navigation under real-life conditions on four different ships. “As part of the pilot project we developed a complete package of autonomous navigation systems and held their field tests. Our systems are fully integrated into the existing shipboard equipment allowing for a maximum validity of results. An algorithm for automatic safe passing and collision avoidance has been developed together with the colleagues from Saint-Petersburg State Polytechnic University named after Peter the Great. Besides, Special Projects Research Institute and NPP AME developed an optical system for maritime situation analysis providing for real-time detection and identification of object seen from the ship. Underway is the preparation for the final demonstration voyages which are to crown the tests”, said Andrey Rodionov, General Director of Sitronics KT JSC, lead designer of autonomous navigation systems.
Apart from technical aspects of a-Navigation, the forum participants touched the regulations and standardization issues related to operation of seagoing autonomous ships. Professor Vasily Gutsulyak, Head of Maritime Law Department at Russian University of Transport, leading expert of the a-Navigation Promotion Center MARINET RUT, said that the Russian Federation has been holding leadership in development of national legal regulations for operation of autonomous ships. After pilot operation of marine autonomous surface ships (MASS) was approved by RF Government, all the related amendments into Russia’s key maritime shipping law, Merchant Shipping Code, were approved as well. They are expected to come into force by the end of 2021 – beginning of 2022. “Russia’s approach to the regulation of MASS operation is based on the principal of complete functional equivalence which is in line with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers. It also does not require a higher safety for MASS compared to the conventional ships. With this approach, MASS can already be widely used in the framework of the current international regulations”, he added.
As a follow-up of the event, a memorandum was developed to serve as a basis for further Russia-China cooperation and for organization of joint scientific research, application projects, personnel training. It will also promote long-term international cooperation on autonomous navigation between research institutions, companies and specialists representing both sides. The parties have agreed to establish partnership between Russian Maritime Register of Shipping and China Classification Society for exchange of technical information and standards on autonomous navigation.
The agenda also included a discussion of a joint pilot project on autonomous navigation in China involving one or several ships, specially built or existing ones. The parties are set to establish a joint working group with the participation of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, particularly aimed at making suggestions on bilateral cooperation into the memorandums of regular China-Russia summits.