Rolls-Royce, the famous luxury car company, wants to introduce autonomous ships to the $US375 billion-per-year shipping industry, reports Bloomberg.
Unmanned drone ships would operate via GPS to make it easier, safer, and more affordable to get cargo to its intended destination as there’s no human crew to feed or house. Moore Stephens LLP, a shipping industry accountant and consultant, told Bloomberg that “crew costs of $US3,299 a day account for about 44 per cent of total operating expenses for a large container ship.
Unsurprisingly, unions hate this idea. Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF’s seafarers’ section in London, writes:
It cannot and will never replace the eyes, ears and thought processes of professional seafarers. The human element is one of the first lines of defence in the event of machinery failure and the kind of unexpected and sudden changes of conditions in which the world’s seas specialize. The dangers posed to the environment by unmanned vessels are too easily imagined.
The prospect of a drone ship is well within our technological reach, but it’s the legal ramifications of sending a captain-less ship out to sea that have some taking pause.
In order to get around this, the European Union is sponsoring a $US4.8 million study called MUNIN, short for Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks. It’s a GPS-based system that would prevent drone ships from veering off course and would in general keep things running safely. In the diagram below, MUNIN catches sight of the smaller ship well in advance, identifies that it will crash if it stays on the same course, then reroutes, following the green arrow to prevent an accident.