Forget Autonomous Cars—Autonomous Ships Are Almost Here

Think autonomous vehicles are going to hit the road near you pretty soon? Autonomous ships will hit the sea ports near you even sooner, according to this IEEE article.

The advantages of self steering ships are obvious:

  • safer to run – between 75 and 96 percent of marine accidents are a result of human error, according to Munich-based insurance company Allianz. Remotely controlled and autonomous ships would reduce the risk of such mistakes and along with it the risk of injury and even death to crew members, not to mention the dangers to the ship itself.
  • reduced risks of piracy – uncrewed ships could be built so that they’d be very difficult to board on the high seas. Even if pirates got aboard, access to the controls could be made unavailable. Indeed, the computers in command could immobilize the ship or have it steam in a circle, making it relatively easy for naval authorities to reach it. Recapture would also be easier than is usually the case in such situations because there would be no crew held hostage. And without a captured crew to ransom, the target of the piracy is significantly less valuable.
  • more fuel efficient – autonomous ships can be designed with a larger cargo capacity and lower wind resistance. That’s because, with no crew to accommodate, certain features of today’s ships can be eliminated—for example, the deck house, the crew quarters, and elements of the ventilation, heating, and sewage systems. This will make the ship lighter and sleeker, cutting fuel consumption, reducing operating and construction costs, and facilitating designs with more space for cargo.
  • lower labor cost – no crew!

The author expects autonomous ships to be commonplace within 10 to 15 years. All technology components are already in place. Trial runs will start in the form of harbor tugs or ferries designed to carry cars the short distance across the mouth of a river or a fjord, while cross-jurisdictional regulation plays catch-up with the technology.

Full article: http://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/marine/forget-autonomous-cars-autonomous-ships-are-almost-here

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