With autonomous navigation and remote electronic management, Furuno is committed to a digital transformation process to help revolutionize the maritime industry. Matt Wood, National Sales Manager, Furuno USA dives deeper.

In 1938, Kiyotaka Furuno founded Furuno Electric Shokai Ltd., the predecessor of Furuno Electric Company. Today, Furuno is best known as a radar and navigation company with almost 90% of its business in the maritime sector. “We’re still primarily a family business, founded by two brothers who were radio engineers,” said Matt Wood, National Sales Manager, Furuno USA. “They turned radio engineering into underwater depth sounding and fish finding, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Today, Furuno has just under 3,000 employees with annual revenue (2020) of approximately $770 million. The company is headquartered in Japan, and in addition to the parent company, there are 40 wholly owned subsidiaries around the world. “We are recognized as a brand in the maritime space, and the navy is what we do. Research and development (R&D) is our driving force, and the majority of company employees are engineers,” Wood said. Focused on all levels of marine navigation, from small pleasure craft to the largest ocean-going commercial and government vessels, the Furuno product line is in one word “broad”. “It’s impossible to say this without sounding a bit arrogant, but the fact is that we have the largest product line of any of our contemporary manufacturers: we do it all,” Wood said. “When we sit in our forecasting meeting, we’re forecasting well over 400 finished products…that’s a long meeting!”


Photo courtesy Furuno


The future is now

As the world’s waterways become increasingly congested, real-time situational awareness and actionable intelligence are increasingly in demand to conduct safe and efficient operations. Modern ships sport increasingly higher levels of automation and autonomy, a step-by-step process towards small crews and eventually unmanned. For example, Furuno’s use of augmented reality technology, a key first step towards the automated ships of the future.

“One product that’s just starting to emerge right now is our AR100, an augmented reality device,” Wood said. “It’s nothing that’s mandated by the market or required by regulation. You have to have a gyrocompass on board, you have to have a radar on board; but you don’t need to have augmented reality technology.

Furuno sells a complete AR kit, merging camera, ECDIS, radar, GPS, heading, satellite compass, doppler speed log and doppler satellite speed log.

“We’re merging all of these technologies into a heads-up display that’s a conventional front deck game today,” Wood said. “But it could be put in a helmet, an overhead projector or a projection.”

Wood said the company intentionally started small. “It’s not a particularly expensive technology; we are looking at (approximately) $25,000 to add to an existing bridge for Furuno. But we anticipate that this type of technology will continue to take off” and effectively serve as a gateway technology to future automation and autonomy.

Augmented reality technology has been successfully implemented in the automotive and gaming industries, but has not been widely deployed in a maritime environment. Furuno developed the concept and first presented it at a maritime exhibition, where it attracted the interest of Mitsui OSK Lines. Furuno and Mitsui OSK Lines embarked on a joint development project, and after a year and a half of development, the partners launched their product in May 2019 on 21 VLCCs, and the growth has been strong ever since.

Augmented reality is only one step in the autonomous journey, as it alone cannot mitigate all accident risks.

In Japan in 2020, under the sponsorship of the Nippon Foundation, MEGURI 2040 launched a joint project to develop the world’s first fully unmanned ship. For its part, Furuno has created a special division to accelerate the development of sensors and technologies that will enable the creation of this fully automated ship by 2025, mobilizing its researchers, developers and companies to help bring the project to fruition.


R&D: Research and development is at the heart of Furuno, which operates a number of R&D centers as well as a private test laboratory. “R&D is our driving force, and the majority of the company’s employees are engineers,” said Matt Wood.


The digital way

As with any engineered product, it is the R&D foundation that is essential to delivering a solid solution, and for Furuno it all starts with digital signal processing and adapting other technologies. digital outside the maritime space. “For us, digitization, in the most simplistic way, initially meant a transition from analog to digital technology. Although it’s a bit simplistic, it’s really important for us to emphasize how vital this digitization has been in growing our technology by leaps and bounds. We had very good analog radar before, now we have even better digital radar. »

This mantra applies across the entire Furuno product line, and the digital footprint extends far beyond the product, system, and even vessel.
“We are enabling a much higher and deeper level of connectivity between the shore side of operations, to better understand what is happening with the ship. One of our subsidiaries, Furuno Hellas in Greece, has released a product called HermAce, which is a large-scale remote monitoring system that received the world’s first Digital Twin Ready certification from Lloyd’s Register.

The development of new products and systems is the cornerstone of any electronic business and, in this regard, Furuno is always on the lookout for new technologies and new partnerships outside its walls, as well as innovative ways to redeploy its own existing technology.

“For example, we turned our marine radar into a weather radar,” Wood said. “We have a double polymetric radar – 2D or 3D radar – for the weather.

Another core technology that we’re really developing is inertial navigation units. Bringing technologies from around the world into our box allows us to perform very high precision pitch, roll and heave for stabilization, whether we are stabilizing a recreational fish finder, a commercial fish finder or a multi sonar -beams.

Another product achievement, which Wood believes is unique to Furuno, is to offer “a matched pair of IMO-certified, solid-state X-band and S-band navigational radars. There are other manufacturers who have one or the other, but we can actually make a matching pair.
Whatever the market, Furuno has a solution for most waterway situations around the world. “We really pride ourselves on providing very sophisticated and complex answers and solutions to really complex problems,” Wood said.


Watch Matt Wood’s full interview on Maritime Reporter TV:


It all starts at the Factory: “We are recognized as a brand in the maritime space, and the navy is what we do. Research and development (R&D) is our driving force, and the majority of company employees are engineers,” Wood said. Image courtesy of Furuno USA