Rolls-Royce Develops Plans for a Robotic Cargo Ship

Every industry has its leaders that try to ride the crest of each new wave of innovation and each new generation of ideas. After all, ideas can drastically alter the landscape of production and services. So what does the future of cargo shipping look like?

New Innovations Made Possible by New Technology

Ever since the first self-driving car left the test lot, there’s been a buzz about transportation vehicles that can pilot themselves. Technologies exist to sense hazards, Pacific weather conditions, and even make decisions about navigation. These technologies expand each year, but the idea has been around far longer and self-piloting Sacramento California cargo ships are no exception.

In 2014, Rolls-Royce made a prediction that robotic, unmanned cargo ships would be the new wave of innovation for the shipping industry. “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when,” says Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce Vice President of Innovation. And that ‘when’ has been given a date of 2020.

The Autonomous Vessel Design
During the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam, the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) led by Rolls-Royce presented a paper on their developments, theories, and a path to making the vessel a reality.

Each vessel would be aided by computer controls at the hands of an onshore operator. They would have smooth decks and run quietly with eco-friendly engines. In addition, they will be equipped with the latest technologies of cameras, infrared systems, radar, lidar, microphones, sonar, and GPS.

Challenges of the Design
Autonomous cargo ships are not developed to the point of exploring the open water just yet. There are several challenges that AAWA faces, including:

● Calculating and accounting for the bandwidth needed to run the onboard technologies.
● Real time operation.
● Problem-solving and recovery of bugged, lost, or disabled ships.
● Ship-to-ship coordination.
● Redefining the legality and regulations of ships.

As each type of case and ship may be slightly different, the growth period to fully autonomous ships may be slow. During the transition, minimal crews will stay onboard to maintain it in case of these types of challenges.

The Benefits of Robotic Cargo Ships
Despite the challenges yet to come, robotic ships represent a promising future in the shipping industry. They would cost less to produce, maintain, and run. In addition, they would have more cargo space for larger loads, boosting cost efficiency. Human error would be reduced, and ideally they would also be better for the environment.