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Rolls Royce to launch autonomous cargo ships by 2020

Mon 27 Jun 2016

Rolls Royce cargo ship

British engineering giant Rolls Royce is planning to develop autonomous cargo ships for deployment as soon as 2020, according to a vision of the concept published last week. The company announced that the fleet of remote-controlled ships would not require any on-board crew, operated instead by a single pilot positioned at a visual deck in a control centre thousands of miles away from the actual vessel.

Managed by a team of operators, the land-based decks will use a mixture of virtual and augmented reality tools and machine learning to control hundreds of ships as they travel at sea. If a ship gets into any trouble, the operator can deploy a small UAV to remotely monitor the situation and identify technical faults or threats.

Rolls Royce argued that as no on-board staff are required, the drone ships will be able to accommodate more cargo in place of bridges and living quarters. This also means improved safety as the human risk factor will be eliminated. Pirates would still be able to pinch cargo, but there would be no threat of anyone being taken hostage or harmed.

controller-rolls-royceThe company, famed for its luxury car brand, said that the autonomous cargo ships would be ready to hit the seas by 2020. It has also started to install state-of-the-art bridges for on-board crews, which include curved display screens and augmented reality features. The first is on board a ship called the Stril Luna.

Rolls Royce also noted that it was working on other nautical technologies, such as boats that do not require human drivers, which would take at least two decades to finalise.

‘This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist,’ commented Oskar Levander, VP of Marine Innovation at Rolls Royce. He continued: ‘The…project is testing sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions…and has created a simulated autonomous ship control system which allows the behaviour of the complete communication system to be explored. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.’

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