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Autonomous Ships: Rolls Royce Planning to Build Self Sailing Sea-craft

A lot of the discourse and attention around autonomous vehicles has been on self-driving cars. Autonomous aircraft are also occasionally mentioned but one sector that is rarely mentioned is that of self-sailing ships. Now aircraft and ship engine maker Rolls Royce is looking to change that as it looks into building autonomous ships. The crew-less ships would save on costs and improve security by using A.I and sensors to handle all ship systems.

Autonomous Ships
image courtesy of Rolls Royce

Autonomous Ships on the Horizon

Much like driverless cars on roads, autonomous ships are now set to be the next targeted phase of transportation on our seas.  Significantly, Rolls Royce is also focusing on thwarting piracy on the oceans. The British based company already has experience in making aircraft and ship engines. Now the aviation and marine giant is looking to be the first to develop an autonomous ship.

Self-sailing ships would have obvious benefits such as producing less carbon emissions, as well lowering operating costs. In addition, these ships would make the seas a lot safer too.

A report by a prominent insurer revealed that a high proportion of incidents that occur at sea are due to human error. Autonomous ships would therefore be able to cut down on the number of accidents and casualties.

An autonomous ship would eliminate a large part of that through accurate and efficient navigation. Over three-quarters of the world’s trade is transported on our oceans, and so self-sailing ships would have the potential to make a big impact. Benefits would include the likely reduction in the basic price of goods and commodities.

Other improvements would include efficiency, bigger capacity, and more accurate sea traffic tracking.

While another serious impact on economies would be the loss of jobs, there are also many benefits to the idea. And with shipping lanes becoming more busy in recent years, this may be a welcome prospect to shipping companies and consumers.

Rolls Royce Looks to Thwart Piracy

As many shipping and maritime leisure companies will testify, piracy at sea is currently a very real and present threat.

However, autonomous ships wouldn’t be immune to the threat of piracy either given the lucrative possibilities of being in possession of such a craft. The high-tech nature and expensive cost of autonomous ships would make them high-value targets.To deter would be  ship- jackers Rolls Royce has come up with an ingenious idea based on the design of its future ship.

A Rolls Royce cargo ship concept. The threat of piracy has forced the company to think creatively in the design of its Autonomous ships.

Looking at the images provided by Rolls Royce, the autonomous sea-craft would be nigh-on impossible to board. Current methods of deterrence include razor wire or water cannon and other rudimentary means of keeping pirates at bay. The design of Rolls Royce’s solution to piracy is a similar low-tech idea, but a clever one nonetheless.

Incidentally, while that issue may be on the way to being dealt with, another threat looms on the horizon, hackers. As the technology that controls our vehicles and machinery has become more sophisticated, so have black hat hijackers looking to cause disruption or profit. Autonomous ships would therefore be at threat from hackers just as self-driving cars are presently.

Thankfully, most big tech companies and those providing consumer-facing devices do not take this threat lightly. Efforts will have to be put in place to both prevent, and remedy the hacking of self-sailing sea-craft.

Intrigued by the possibility of autonomous ships on our seas? – Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Also published on Medium.


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