Updated: Jun 16, 2020
A research report by technology and innovation consultancy Thetius predicts China will lead all other nations by developing and implementing autonomous shipping within five years.
Thetius research analysts calculated the maritime autonomous surface shipping (MASS) market is currently worth US$1.1Bn annually. They forecast this market will grow by 7% per year to US$1.5bn by 2025.
Researchers unearthed almost 3,000 patents relating to autonomous shipping technology worldwide. They found 96% of these were registered in China.
Most of those patents were registered in the last five years by a small group of Chinese universities and private companies, says Thetius founder and director Nick Chubb.
“The incredible amount of recent patent activity indicates significant research and development funding has been made available to Chinese researchers building the next generation of autonomous shipping technology,” said Mr Chubb. “The Chinese Government is highly supportive of the sector, having recently set up a 777 km2 autonomous shipping testbed in Guangdong.”
In this testbed site, Zhuhai-based technology group Yunzhou Tech completed trials with autonomous cargo ship Jin Dou Yun 0 Hao in December 2019.
This 12.9-m vessel carried a cargo from Dong Ao island, Guandong province, to a pier by the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge. It was operated by automatic navigation technology and remote control, and powered from an electrical plant.
This followed several earlier remote control and autonomous navigation tests during November and December 2019.
Jin Dou Yun 0 Hao is seen as a platform for advancing the technological progress and industrial development of intelligent ships in China. Yunzhou Tech said it would further test this vessel and look for commercial operators and applications.
Also in December 2019, Qingdao-based smart ship technology group Navigation Brilliance contracted Yangfan Shipbuilding’s Qingdao Shipyard to construct 300-TEU autonomous container ship, Zhi Fei, for shortsea operations from Q3 2021.
This ship is being developed by Navigation Brilliance in conjunction with Dalian Maritime University and China Waterborne Transport Research Institute.
Navigation Brilliance has previously conducted autonomous trials with small vessel Zhi Teng to test its navigation technology and intends to order larger autonomous container ships of 500 TEU and 800 TEU if Zhi Fei is a success.
Yunzhou Tech has also partnered with Zhuhai Port Shipping to develop unmanned cargo ships, which could lead to more shipyard orders this decade.
Zhuhai Port plans to expand its river and coastal cargo transportation fleet after raising around US$145M in May 2019. It intends to spend this cash on a fleet of more than 50 vessels, including newbuildings and potentially autonomous vessels.