SoftBank is collaborating with Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and several others to create remote-piloted ships.
According to the Nikkei, the companies are currently working on creating a newer and faster maritime communications network with the help of a satellite constellation operated by U.K.-based OneWeb.
OneWeb anticipates speeds of 400 megabits per second: That’s 100 times as fast as current maritime networks which are a decade behind land-based telecommunications.
The Nikkei contends that such a sharp improvement in data speeds and capacity could make it more feasible to remotely pilot vessels from onshore stations.
Crew requirements too could be halved depending on the type of ship being used; this is especially crucial for Japan’s shipping industry that’s been suffering from a worker shortage.
The remote-controlled ship project will be led by e5 Lab, a joint venture whose investors include Mitsui O.S.K., Asahi Tanker and trading house Mitsubishi Corp.
The venture will provide antennas and software to shipping companies, while SoftBank will participate on the telecom side.
The companies are expected to charge a monthly fee for using the software.
The plan is to supply receiving antennas to shippers around 2021, starting with all 5,000 or so of Japan’s coastal vessels.
This could help vessels update their location once a second – compared with once per minute on current networks – and send and receive image data.
It could also allow for supplementary services, such as weather forecasts based on current weather and ocean conditions gleaned from satellite data.
Nearly half of the 28,000 people serving on Japanese coastal vessels are 50 or older, according to the transport ministry – a statistic that portends a dramatic drop in labor over the next decade.
Moreover, graduates from schools that offer seafaring qualifications are opting for other jobs, thereby creating a vacuum that needs to be filled fast.
The Nikkei contends that with fully self-piloting vessels not expected to be operational until around 2025, remote operation could as well help fill that gap.
Image and content: DNVGL via Maritime Cyprus/Nikkei Asian Review