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Japanese Consortium Conducts the World's First Demonstration of a Self-Driving Amphibious Vessel Supported by The Nippon Foundation [2022年03月29日(Tue)]
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The amphibious sightseeing bus Yamba Nyagaten successfully conducts the world’s first test run of a fully autonomous amphibious vessel in the Yamba Dam lake on March 14, 2022.


A five-member consortium, led by ITbook Holdings, has successfully conducted the world’s first demonstration of a fully autonomous amphibious vessel.

The group has thus become the fifth of five consortia to demonstrate the autonomous technologies under the Joint Technological Development Program for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ship, dubbed “MEGURI 2040,” sponsored by The Nippon Foundation.

The five consortia carried out demonstrations of their crewless navigation technologies, involving a total of six vessels−a tourist boat, two containerships, two car ferries and an amphibious tourist bus−between January and March 2022 and all came off well.

On March 14, the ITbook consortium, which also includes the town of Naganohara and Saitama Institute of Technology, had the 11.83-meter-long, 11-gross-ton amphibious tourist bus pilot itself on a roughly 2-kilometer route over about 30 minutes in the Yamba Dam lake in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The bus, nicknamed the Yamba Nyagaten and owned by Naganohara Town, started the journey on land, entered the water and came back ashore entirely autonomously.

To navigate with high precision along the planned route, the bus was outfitted with a fully autonomous navigation system, featuring quasi-zenith satellites and a fiber-optic gyroscope as a sensor for position correction. It was also equipped with multiple sensors such as visible light cameras, light detection and ranging (lidar), and sonar that uses underwater sound waves for automatic detection and avoidance of obstacles.

The positioning information and information from the sensors is fed to Autoware, an improved automated operation system for ships, and artificial intelligence learning is applied to realize the automated navigation technology. The system was developed to handle the controls needed for land and water operations and switch automatically between the two.

While amphibious vessels are currently used primarily for sightseeing at locations around Japan, a growing number of local governments have begun to introduce them for search and rescue operations in case of torrential rains that have become increasingly frequent in Japan in recent years.

Japan’s domestic coastal shipping industry is grappling with the problem of an aging population of seafarers, more than half of them aged 50 and older, as well as a declining number of crew members working in the industry.

Under the circumstances, autonomous ships are expected to go a long way in reducing workloads and trimming operating costs. Besides, crewless navigation can also contribute to safety by reducing human errors, which account for about 80% of marine accidents.

The successful demonstrations by all the five consortia mark an important step in “MEGURI 2040” initiative, launched by The Nippon Founation in February 2020 with an eye to putting unmanned ships into commercial service in 2025 and making half of Japan’s domestic coastal ships crewless by 2040.

I believe the project now needs to make further progress in addressing technical issues identified through these demonstrations, including those related to berthing and unberthing, stability of telecommunications environments, image recognition and use of artificial intelligence, as well as legal issues related to the practical implementation of fully autonomous ship navigation.

The Nippon Foundation will analyze the results of this series of demonstrations and oversee further technological development using the strengths of each consortium, so that autonomous vessels will be put into commercial service by 2025.

We will present a report on the demonstrations by the five consortia at Sea Japan 2022, the nation’s largest international maritime exhibition to be held on April 20, 2022, at Tokyo International Exhibition Center known as Tokyo Big Sight.


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Inside the amphibious vessel during the demonstration of its fully autonomous navigation system in the Yamba Dam lake on March 14, 2022. The man did not touch the controls at all during the test run.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:07 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
Postcard From Sasakawa Fellow Symbolizing “Deep Links” Between Japan and Côte d'Ivoire [2022年03月25日(Fri)]
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A picture postcard with an image of local fishermen on their boat flying the national flags of Japan and Côte d'Ivoire. I received it from a naval officer in the West African nation who studied at World Maritime University (WMU) of Sweden under The Nippon Foundation’s fellowship program.


The Nippon Foundation provides a wide variety of scholarships to students around the world. Every year, I am delighted to receive hundreds of letters of thanks from current and past fellows across the globe.

After they graduate, we also support them through a global network we are building to help them exchange ideas and information and work together as they assist their home countries in addressing various policy challenges, and promote international cooperation.

Here, I would like to share with you a picture postcard I recently received from Mr. Kouakou D. Dominique, a naval officer in Côte d'Ivoire on the southern coast of West Africa. He is one of the 730 fellows from 81 countries who have studied at World Maritime University (WMU) of Sweden under our fellowship program.

I was greatly impressed by the picture on the card, which shows a local fishing boat with the national flags of our two countries.

“It is a common practice for the artisanal fishermen here to have multiple flying flags; I don’t know the exact reasons, but I think it is a way to show appreciation since Japan provides a lot of support to the fishing communities here,” he said in the card dated February 1, 2022.

I believe he was referring mainly to the training provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to local fishermen on fishing methods.

“Through this image, I want to celebrate the deep links which exist between Japan and Côte d'Ivoire,” he wrote, adding: “Thank you again for your support. I am very proud to be part of the Sasakawa Family.”
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
New Report Focuses Attention on Growing Threat Posed by Marine Chemical Pollution [2022年03月23日(Wed)]
Back to Blue, an initiative of The Nippon Foundation and Economist Impact, part of the London-based world-renowned multinational media company The Economist Group, has released a new report, “The Invisible Wave: Getting to zero chemical pollution in the ocean.”

The report was issued on the occasion of the 9th annual World Ocean Summit organized by Economist Impact from March 1 to 4. It was intended to raise awareness of marine chemical pollution, the scale and potential impact of which are not widely appreciated, and to focus minds on delivering solutions to achieve a zero-pollution ocean.

“Marine pollution has deservedly gained greater attention in recent years, most notably through the vexing−and highly visible−issue of plastics.  Chemical pollution, by contrast, is often unseen−though it is no less important or urgent,” the report said.

Synthetic chemicals in the form of nutrients, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, sewage, plastics and microplastics, and those used in the vast majority of household and consumer products flush into the ocean through freshwater systems and runoff, through atmospheric deposition, as well as from ships and extractive industries at sea.

Worryingly, the study concluded, “the world has already crossed the planetary boundary where chemicals threaten the very ecosystems−including the marine environment−upon which humans and most other species depend.”

“Since humans are producing far more chemicals in ever-greater volumes, the impact on the marine environment will only become more severe,” the report said.

Tackling the problem of chemical pollution requires the coordinated action of everyone in the chemicals value chain−from the chemicals industry itself to governments, regulators, investors and financiers, as well as civil society and consumers. “Failure to address marine chemical pollution in a systematic manner risks inflicting irreparable harm on the ocean,” the report warned.

I believe that this is the first-ever comprehensive report that sheds light on the serious impacts of chemical pollution on our ocean, and as a result, on human wellbeing.

Asked about my expectations on the findings of the report by Mr. Charles Goddard, editorial director at Economist Impact, in the World Ocean Summit Fireside Chat, I quoted from the survey and noted that there are at least 350,000 synthetic chemicals and thousands more being added each year.

“The impact on human health and environment is hardly known. If other chemicals are used, there is still a possibility that those could be harmful too,” I said, adding that much more research is needed to determine the damage that many chemicals inflict on the marine environment.

It is my hope that the findings will help drive international dialogue to address this issue and help the global community to realize that without drastic steps to ensure a healthy ocean environment, there is no guarantee for the sustainability of humankind.

The video and text of the World Ocean Summit Fireside Chat with Mr. Charles Goddard, editorial director at Economist Impact, can be seen here:

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:53 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
Crewless Containership Conducts the World’s First Test Run in Congested Waters Supported by The Nippon Foundation [2022年03月17日(Thu)]
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The 95-meter-long, 749 gross-ton containership Suzaku successfully conducts the world’s first demonstration of an autonomous ship in highly congested waters from February 26 to March 1, 2022, under a project supported by The Nippon Foundation.


I attended a press conference on March 1 to announce that a consortium of 30 Japanese companies, led by Japan Marine Science Inc., has successfully conducted the world’s first demonstration of an autonomous ship in waters with heavy marine traffic.

Under a project sponsored by The Nippon Foundation, the containership Suzaku piloted itself on a 790-kilometer round trip between Tokyo Bay and Ise, a coastal city in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, from February 26 to March 1.

The group has thus become the fourth to demonstrate the autonomous technologies among the five consortia participating in the Joint Technological Development Program for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ship, dubbed “MEGURI 2040.”

The 95-meter-long, 749 gross-ton Suzaku was outfitted with a comprehensive fully autonomous navigation system, including remote operations from the Fleet Operation Center (FOC) in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

The navigation scheme consists of three primary components: (1) an onboard navigation system that controls autonomous functions from the ship; (2) a land-based system that monitors and supports the ship from shore (FOC), and (3) an information and communications system that enables stable communication between the ship and land.

The FOC provides onshore support for crewless ships by collecting information and monitoring and analyzing the operational status of vessels, using satellite technology, onboard sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI). In the case of an emergency, the ships can be steered remotely from this base.

Tokyo Bay is known as one of the most congested sea areas in the world with about 500 ships coming and going each day, compared with roughly 320 passing through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, and 40 through the Panama Canal, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The consortium, led by Japan Marine Science, has brought together a total of 30 Japanese companies, comprising the country’s major shipping and shipbuilding as well as equipment manufacturing, communications, IT, insurance and other firms, for what they claim to be an “All Japan” team.

Koichi Akamine, president of Japan Marine Science, said at the press conference: “We have created fully automated navigation by designing and demonstrating completely new systems through open innovation and taking into account the perspectives of ship operators. I am confident that this successful demonstration represents a major step forward toward the practical implementation of fully automated navigation.”

I commended the consortium for its successful demonstration of a crewless ship navigating such highly congested waters alongside hundreds of freight and passenger ships, large and small, as well as fishing boats.

I told the press conference that, in my view, Japan has rarely created innovations with global impact. But I believe that the five consortia participating in the “MEGURI 2040” initiative are capable of making Japan a world leader in autonomous ship navigation technology through their innovations.

Japan is an ocean state consisting of 6,800 islands of which more than 250 are inhabited. But in 2019, the number of crew members operating freight and passenger ships in Japan came to about 28,000 with 46.5% of them aged 50 and older, resulting in serious crew shortages and increased workload per crew member.

This is why The Nippon Foundation launched “MEGURI 2040” initiative in February 2020, with an eye to putting unmanned ships into commercial service in 2025 and making half of Japan’s domestic coastal ships crewless by 2040. It has provided 7.4 billion yen (about $62.6 million) for this ambitious project.

In achieving these goals, I expect Japan will play a leading role in creating international rules governing crewless shipping in international waters.

It is my sincere hope that the four consortia, along with a fifth working on unmanned navigation technology for an amphibious sightseeing bus, will fully scrutinize the data on their demonstration voyages and make steady progress toward these goals.


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Remote operation at the Fleet Operation Center (FOC) in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, during a demonstration of an autonomous navigation system of the containership Suzaku.


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The overview of the “MEGURI 2040” comprehensive fully autonomous navigation system.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:14 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
Japanese Young People Believe Men Need to Know More About Menstruation [2022年03月15日(Tue)]
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How much do young Japanese understand issues surrounding menstruation, from inconveniences in daily life to the economic effects? A poll by The Nippon Foundation, the latest in our “Awareness Survey of 18-Year-Olds” series, found that only 40.0% of women and 17.8% of men think they had sufficient knowledge of menstruation, with 43.4% of women and 30.4% of men replying “they would like to know more.”

The online survey on “Menstrual Issues” also showed that when it comes to men’s knowledge of the subject, a majority of women (74.4%) and men (61.0%) agreed that “men need to know more.”

The survey was carried out between December 10 and 15, 2021, covering 1,000 Japanese aged between 17 and 19 across the nation.

Roughly half of men (49.8%) and women (53.8%) replied that classes in school were their main source of information on the subject, but less than 30% of all respondents (29.3%) were satisfied with the quantity (number/frequency) and content of those classes.

When asked what they wanted schools to teach about periods, more than two thirds of women (70.0%) cited information about menstrual products and more than half of men (56.0%) mentioned appropriate consideration for women while they are menstruating.

Regarding inconveniences in daily life for women while having their periods, almost half of them (44.4%) experienced an insufficient availability of sanitary products in public places and one in three (32.4%) said that even though they wanted to miss or leave school classes or extracurricular activities early, they could not do so and just put up with it.

The survey also found that there is a psychological burden from insufficient understanding or consideration by others, including not being able to tell teachers or other persons in authority that one does not feel well (10.6%), or having those persons not understand that one does not feel well (9.4%).

In addition, 15.1% of women replied that in the past year, for economic reasons, they could not afford to purchase sanitary products, or replaced them less frequently, or used substitute items or items they borrowed from others or were given.

The economic burden caused by menstruation was also highlighted, with 71.6% of women and 51.6% of men replying that sanitary products should be subject to a reduced consumption tax rate, and 63.4% of women and 45.8% of men answering that sanitary products should be made available for free in such places as public restrooms.


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What are the main inconveniences in daily life or lack of understanding by others you have experienced?


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During the past year, have you experienced inconveniences with sanitary products for economic reasons?
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:03 | A FUTURE FOR YOUTH | URL | comment(0)
Third Japanese Consortium Successfully Demonstrates Autonomous Ship Navigation Supported by The Nippon Foundation (2) [2022年03月09日(Wed)]
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The large car ferry Sunflower Shiretoko, operated by a consortium led by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) sets a new record for the world’s longest and furthest autonomous navigation on February 6 and 7, 2022, under a project supported by The Nippon Foundation.


On February 6 and 7, the Mitsui O.S.K. Lines consortium set a new record for autonomous ship navigation with the Sunflower Shiretoko, a 190-meter-long 11,410 gross-ton ferry.

The test followed the normal commercial route of the ferry, which traveled a distance of 750 kilometers over roughly 18 hours, from Tomakomai, Hokkaido, northernmost Japan, to Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, on the Pacific coast, marking the world’s longest successful demonstration of fully autonomous navigation in terms of both distance and time.

Technologies developed for this project included an automated berthing and unberthing system and an augmented reality (AR) navigation system for monitoring from land, which will contribute to improved safety and reduced workloads for ships’ crews.

Large car ferries transport both cargo and passengers simultaneously, and play an important role in domestic logistics, with marine transport handling more than 80% of logistics between Hokkaido and the Kanto region, including Tokyo.

According to the Maritime Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism, the number of domestic passenger ferry crew members has declined by 30% since 2000 to roughly 7,000, which, given the length of car ferry voyages, is adding to the workload of seafarers.

The success of this demonstration is expected to help reduce both crew workloads and operating costs.

To detect other ships and obstacles, the vessel was outfitted with a fully autonomous navigation system developed using artificial intelligence (AI) to “teach” the ship to detect other vessels, information from an automatic identification system (AIS) and radar, as well as visible light cameras and infrared cameras for use at night.

Algorithms were also developed to avoid collisions with other ships and obstacles. As these vessels will need to be monitored from land, an autonomous navigation system was developed using AR (augmented reality) technology to superimpose various pieces of information onto images sent from the vessel.

The demonstrations involving the containership Mikage that I detailed in part one of this blog and of the Sunflower Shiretoko−two vessels of different types−mark an important step in “MEGURI 2040” initiative, launched by The Nippon Founation in February 2020 with an eye to putting unmanned ships into commercial service in 2025 and making half of Japan’s domestic coastal ships crewless by 2040.

All the five groups participating in the project are conducting demonstrations of their crewless navigation technologies between January and March 2022. I sincerely hope the remaining two consortia will successfully demonstrate their autonomous technologies, adding further momentum to this ambitious project.



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The car ferry Sunflower Shiretoko is equipped with an augmented reality (AR) navigation system to display on monitoring screens an image of an evasion plan after another ship has been detected ahead (shown in yellow).
read more...
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
Third Japanese Consortium Successfully Demonstrates Autonomous Ship Navigation Supported by The Nippon Foundation (1) [2022年03月08日(Tue)]
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The containership Mikage travels a 270-kilometer route along the Sea of Japan coast on January 24-25, 2022, to successfully demonstrate its autonomous navigation technology supported by The Nippon Foundation.


A consortium of eight Japanese companies, led by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL), a major shipping company, has successfully demonstrated fully autonomous navigation systems on two different types of vessel−a coastal containership and a large car ferry.

The group has thus become the third to demonstrate the autonomous technologies among the five consortia participating in the Joint Technological Development Program for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ship, dubbed “MEGURI 2040,” sponsored by The Nippon Foundation.

On January 24-25, the MOL consortium demonstrated the world’s first crewless navigation of a containership in service−the Mikage−on a 270-kilometer route from Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, to Sakai Minato, Tottori Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast.

The demonstration also marked the first use of drones for mooring operations, with the drones used to haul the heaving lines that secured the unmanned ship to the wharf. The autonomous berthing was one of the most challenging parts of the voyage, requiring especially delicate handling.  

Normally there are crew members aboard the ship to provide visual confirmation during the docking operation and also to pass the ship’s lines to the longshoremen to tie up the vessel. For the autonomous voyage, the seven-year-old containership was outfitted with mooring support technology using drones to carry the lines to the pier.

Containerships of roughly the Mikage’s size (749 gross tons) play an important role in coastal transport in Japan, accounting for roughly 10% of coastal vessels in operation.

The length of their voyages combined with crew shortages places a significant burden on seafarers. This successful demonstration of fully autonomous operation of the containership paves the way for future technological applications that will address the issues of crew shortages and workloads, and also contribute to the reduction of operating costs.

For this demonstration, the Mikage was equipped with a system featuring artificial intelligence (AI) to “teach” the ship to detect other vessels with an automatic identification system (AIS) and radar, as well as visible light cameras and infrared cameras for use at night.

A fully automated navigation system was also developed to avoid collisions based on the movements of other ships, and this was successfully demonstrated as well.

The crewless voyage requires monitoring from land, and this was done with a system that used augmented reality (AR) technology to superimpose information sent from the ship onto a screen.

Mr. Mitsuyuki Unno, executive director of The Nippon Foundation, said that the test voyage was conducted smoothly despite the ship having to deal with overnight wind and waves in the Sea of Japan.

(To be continued)



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A drone being used in mooring operations of the containership Mikage in demonstration of its autonomous navigation technology on January 25, 2022.


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The augmented reality (AR) navigation system displayed on monitoring screens in the ship’s control room and on land.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:01 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)
Free COVID-19 PCR Tests Funded by The Nippon Foundation for Tokyo Area Caregivers Top 5-Million Mark [2022年03月02日(Wed)]
About a year ago, The Nippon Foundation launched a project to offer caregivers and other essential workers at elderly nursing homes in Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures free and regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the novel coronavirus. This was part of our campaign to help the nation combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of February 12, 2022, the number of PCR tests administered on these caregivers came to 5,033,016, surpassing the 5-million mark for the first time since the project started on February 24, 2021. Of the total, 3,731 persons or 0.074% were found positive.

In December last year, the number of positive cases found in our testing remained at almost zero. Only four persons tested positive for six days between December 31 and January 5. But with the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading fast across Japan, the number of positive cases surged to more than 100 per day in late January and 200 in early February.

As I noted in my previous posts, I cannot overstate the importance of PCR testing, along with vaccination, as the key to containing COVID-19. The Japanese government has finally started to administer free PCR tests targeting people with no symptoms.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of new positive cases in Japan has been trending lower after hitting a daily high of 100,275 on February 1, but remained high with the daily average for the week ending on February 26 standing at 67,437. Besides, daily COVID-related deaths have risen above 200 since mid-February, reaching a high of 272 on February 22.

I sincerely hope the government will continue its campaign to encourage people to get tested. I believe that we need to receive a PCR test on a regular basis, ideally once a week.

The followings are details of the foundation’s PCR testing project on caregivers at elderly nursing homes in Tokyo and the three nearby prefectures between December 31, 2021, and February 12, 2022.

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Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:02 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)