Avikus, a subsidiary of HD Hyundai, demonstrated its Level 2 autonomous navigation system for boats this week. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
INCHEON, South Korea, July 15 (UPI) -- Avikus, a subsidiary of South Korean shipbuilding giant HD Hyundai, is aiming to commercialize its Level 2 autonomous navigation system for boats this year, in an effort to jump into the lead of a nascent market for both commercial and leisure craft.
The company, which spun off from Hyundai last year, demonstrated its technology on a self-driving boat in the western port city of Incheon on Tuesday.
In a demonstration this week, a boat carrying half a dozen passengers planned and navigated its own route over a 20-minute ride into the open sea and back to port using Hyundai's proprietary system. It was able to avoid obstacles such as other boats and buoys using object detection and tracking before docking on its own.
The boat used Level 2 autonomous technology, based on a four-tier scale approved by the International Maritime Organization. At this level, crew members are still required to be on board to take over in case of emergency.
"We are aiming to become the top tier in terms of autonomous navigation -- not just for vessels, but for leisure boats also," Avikus chief executive Lim Do-hyeong told reporters at this week's press briefing and demonstration.
Lim said that the company will start selling its Level 2 system to commercial ships by the end of this year and to leisure boats next year. The company will participate in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October to showcase its technology and begin taking orders.
It is the market of wealthy private boat owners that represents Avikus' biggest opportunity, Lim said -- also pointing out that only about 500 high-value vessels like liquid natural gas tankers are ordered every year while there are millions of private boats worldwide.
"I think the market is very big," Lim added. "For affluent owners who have leisure boats, there is demand for an autonomous solution. They have very high-tech cars, but for boats they are using 20-year-old technology."
Last month, the company successfully completed the world's first transoceanic voyage of a large merchant vessel using its Level 2 autonomous navigation. The 180,000 square-meter-class ultra-large LNG carrier, called the Prism Courage, sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to South Korea in 33 days.
Avikus said the voyage successfully showcased its technology's advantages in terms of safety and efficiency.
The ship used the autonomous navigation system for half of the nearly 14,000-mile journey, increasing fuel efficiency by 7% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5% while doing so. The navigation system also recognized nearby ships and avoided collisions over 100 times.
Lim said that the company's real-world experience gives Avikus a market edge in terms of the data its system uses for deep learning-based object detection and tracking.
"By end of this year we will have biggest data set in terms of the ocean, I can confidently say that," Lim said.
So far, the company has sold around 210 units of its Level 1 system, mostly to high-end commercial ships.
Lim predicted that higher levels of autonomous navigation would become commercially available later in the decade, as maritime laws must be changed to allow for fully unmanned ships to operate.
Level 3 technology does not require a crew but would still offer remote control, while Level 4 operates with full autonomy.
Lim said he expects that Level 3 or 4 navigation would be commercialized in coastal areas by 2026 and by 2030 for trans-oceanic trips.