Our ever changing technological society has improved many facets of our daily lives. It’s hard to even imagine life without a constant access to the Internet and our email and technology has also radically shifted almost every industry imaginable. Concept driverless cars are already being tested, so it’s no surprise that plans are also in the works for unmanned ships in the shipping industry. While the media doesn’t tend to focus on the technology of unmanned ships as opposed to self-driving cars, these ships could revolutionize the entire industry, making it more energy efficient in line with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) goals.
The idea of an unmanned ship is not a relatively new concept, but it has only been recently realized as a possibility. In 1973, author Rolf Schonknect wrote about ships being controlled by a captain in his office in his book ‘Ships and Shipping of Tomorrow.’ Since that time, unmanned ships have been discussed frequently as a possibility for the shipping industry, like in Japan in the 1980s as a means for cheaper shipping without the expense of labor costs.
It wasn’t until 2012, when the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN) project was launched by several European research groups, that unmanned ships began to seem feasible. The MUNIN project researched the idea of unmanned ships for 3 years and decided it was a possibility for long open sea voyages, but not in congested waters.
At this time, Rolls Royce is currently working on developing unmanned ships that would be controlled on the shores. These “drone-ships” will have cameras that send visuals to the operators who would be able to steer the ships remotely. Testing of this new advanced technology is already being done in Norway. While it’s not a reality yet, Rolls Royce plans to have a fleet of completely unmanned ships by 2020.
Unmanned ships could make a remarkable difference in making the shipping industry more fuel efficient and optimized. Instead of having a crew with section for their living quarters, the ship could be packed to capacity. Along with that, there would be less safety concerns for human workers since they would not need to be on the ship at all, and the ship would be about 5 percent lighter and use 12-15 percent less fuel.