Earlier this year, a Norwegian partnership announced plans to build the world's first fully-autonomous containership. The goal is for manned voyages to begin in 2018, with unmanned voyages to begin in 2020.
Rolls Royce has been a leader regarding the technology developments for autonomous vessels. Earlier this year, it announced its collaboration with a Finnish ferry company in developing an intelligent awareness system for vessels. Rolls Royce expects to have the intelligent awareness system commercially available by the end of this year. The company also has a goal of an autonomous vessel in commercial use by the end of the decade.
As with vehicles, the proponents of autonomous vessels tout improved safety as one of the primary benefits. In addition, cost savings are predicted through reduced crewing requirements, and improved predictive maintenance of vessels and equipment. Critics do not believe that unmanned vessels can ever be safely operated and question the ability to perform emergency onboard repairs and the ability to respond to other unexpected developments at sea.
For the maritime industry, much of the technology necessary for autonomous vessels is already in place but continues to be adapted. Not surprisingly, the regulatory bodies are moving at a slower pace. While there is debate on the extent of change necessary for the regulation of autonomous vessels, certainly some challenges will be presented.
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