Is this the Cargo Ship of the Future?

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Remote-controlled and Crewless: is this the Cargo Ship of the Future?

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Rolls-Royce has revealed concept designs for an autonomous ship that could be managed remotely from a control centre.  The future of cargo transportation will be autonomous, and the company has designs for unmanned ship that could take to the global shipping traffic, as early as 2020.

The company, well recognised for the production of luxury cars and jet engines, has published a white paper setting out its vision for cargo vessels that can be monitored remotely by a “captain” stationed at an on-shore command centre.  Operators would be able to monitor vessels by a remote link, carry out diagnostics and deploy drones to perform further inspections.

Outlining his vision at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium in Amsterdam recently, Oskar Levander, Vice-President of Marine Innovation at Rolls-Royce, said: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when.  The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist.”

The Rolls-Royce-led Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA), which brings together university researchers, ship designers and equipment manufacturers, has been testing the technology in Finland.  Levander added: “We will see a remote-controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.”

However, before autonomous commercial vessels can be revolved out, there are regulatory and security challenges to speak, including piracy.  “In principle, anybody skilful and capable to attain access into the ICT system could take control of the ship and change its operation according to hackers’ objectives,” the white paper says.  “This could mean simply some disruptive actions or manoeuvres introduced for annoyance or demonstration, hijacking of the ship and cargo for ransom, but also powered groundings or collisions created on purpose to cause severe destruction.”

Rolls-Royce says autonomous ships will be safer and cheaper to operate, with more room for cargo.  The European Union has funded a $4 million project to develop the concept and in 2014, shipping research firm DNV GL unveiled designs for a crewless cargo vessel.

Earlier this year, the US launched its first self-driving warship.  Christened Sea Hunter, the prototype is unarmed, but is capable of patrolling the surface of the world’s oceans for up to three months at a time – without a crew, and without being controlled remotely.

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Source: World Economic Forum

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