The Drone Ship of The Future: Rolls-Royce Takes Shipping To The Next Level

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There has been a lot of buzz surrounding drone shipping in regard to Amazon’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)  delivery service, but another kind of drone shipping is about to make its own waves. Drone shipping about to be scaled up as Rolls-Royce announces their Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) which just outlined its vision to bring the world autonomous container ships.

“We will see a remote-controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade,” said Oskar Levander, VP of innovation for Rolls-Royce Holdings’ marine division.

Hobby drones or UAV’s have been buzzing above our heads for some time and the military has used these advanced systems this for operations overseas as well. Amazon has also been extremely interested in utilizing drone technology to ship their products locally. The FAA just released the rules for commercial aerial drones and companies like Amazon are beginning to get their drone programs off the ground. But now Rolls-Royce is looking to take their technology to the open ocean and dramatically improve the shipping industry and the supply chain as a whole.

There are already autonomous military ships so the technology is there, but Rolls-Royce has some new obstacles to ensure their ships are ready for commercial operations. The AAWA has said that implementing autonomous and remote technology will require cooperation between policymakers and broader acceptance throughout the shipping industry and the public. New regulations need to be made that take into account completely autonomous or remote operated ships. Maritime liability is another issue that Rolls-Royce will put into question as this new means of transporting goods becomes a reality.

However, the benefits of autonomous or remote controlled cargo ships offers enough incentive for the company to spend the time and effort to bring the world this new means of freight transport.

The AAWA has developed a simulated control system which they are currently conducting sensor tests with. Sensors will be the heart and soul of an autonomous ship as they would be largely responsible for avoiding collisions with sea ice or other vessels out in the open ocean. Also, in the case of a remotely operated ship, sensors will alert the drone pilot if there are any obstructions outside of the pilots field of view. The new bridge, known as the Future Operator Experience Concept or ‘oX’ was developed by Rolls-Royce, VTT researchers and Aalto University.

These incredible autonomous cargo ships of the future will be controlled using high-tech control rooms based on land. ‘oX’ offers crews a smart workstation experience which will recognize individuals when they walk on into the remote bridge and will automatically adjust its settings to fit the preferences of that specific operator.

“We are entering a truly exciting period in the history of shipping, where technology, and in particular the smart use of Big Data is going to drive the next generation of ships, – Over the next ten to 20 years we believe Ship Intelligence is going to be the driving force that will determine the future of our industry, the type of ships at sea, and the competence levels required from tomorrow’s seafarers.” Mikael Makinen said, Rolls-Royce, President – Marine.

Rolls-Royce has some incredible expectations for this new initiative. They plan to create a more efficient and safer maritime industry for the entire world. By removing an on-bored crew from the operation, businesses can make more efficient use of the space on the ship. Furthermore, just like self-driving cars, they believe advanced sensor systems and remote controlled ships would help eliminate human error.

What’s even more surprising is how quickly they expect to put this program in action. By the end of the decade Rolls-Royce wants to see their autonomous and remote controlled container ships in action on the open seas. They said it’s not a question of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’. The technology is there but now all they’re waiting for is approval and acceptance from the industry.

What could this mean for the future of freight transportation and commercial shipping? How large of an impact will this have on the world’s supply chain? It may be too early to speculate but we want to know what you think. Let us know your impression on our Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.