Skip to comments.Rolls-Royce believes time of drone cargo ships has come
Posted on 03/02/2014 5:35:11 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
Marine innovation engineering department at Rolls-Royce has presented a draft design of an ocean-going robo-vessel that could enter service within a decade. Experts remain highly skeptical that computers could replace human instincts anytime soon.
Rolls-Royce (RR/) Holdings Plc, which started designing autonomous cargo vessels in 2013, have presented in Bloomberg original computer design of crewless cargo ships. The vessels have a distinct difference from all modern ships: they lack any deck housing whatsoever.
"The idea of a remote-controlled ship is not new, it has been around for decades, but the difference is the technology now exists, announced Oskar Levander, head of marine innovation engineering at Rolls-Royce, in an interview to the Financial Times last December.
The explosion in development of drones operating in all environments predetermines that robotic vehicles and vessels are going to revolutionize transportation worldwide. And for the worlds $375 billion shipping industry currently delivering 90 percent of world trade, that is going to be a hell of a challenge.
The bright outlook of saving money in commercial navigation by introducing robotic vessels keeps haunting British engineers, who want to stake a claim on being among the pioneers of drone cargo ships.
Rolls-Royce specialists realize that at the moment international regulators are not ready to embrace the idea of civil sea drones, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so they are initiating public debate on the issue. The company is now pushing for organizing legal arrangements for the huge undertaking because without agreed international regulations on drone seafaring in place all talks about creating robotic fleet are useless: the absence of legal market would be a barrier to demand.
There is no point us developing remote-controlled ships if there isnt a market to sell them into, said Levander, Rolls-Royces vice-president of innovation in marine engineering and technology, to Bloomberg. We can make it happen faster technologically than we can on the regulatory side.
Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction, Levander said. If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.
A practical step towards robotic maritime future is going to be made on local sea routes in the EU and the US, where lanes in coastal waters are operating under one jurisdiction, he predicts.
I think it will take more than 10 years before you have all the global rules in place, but you may have a local administration that is prepared to run [robotic ships] sooner, said Levander.
With the drone frenzy that engulfed Americas military and even internet merchandise, with Google buying robot producers and Amazon announcing drone deliveries within five years time unmanned maritime is inevitable, Levander believes.
It is happening in all the other industries so it is only logical that it should happen in marine, he said.
With computers generally increasing their roles in navigation and operations, the transition to drone ships will happen gradually, assured Levander. Container and dry-bulk carrier ships are likely to get rid of crews first, while hazardous materials such as flammable oil and liquefied natural gas will demand manned steering, because of the perception that having people on board is safer, he said. With time, remote-controlled ships will become even safer to operate than manned ones today, assured the Rolls-Royce expert.
The EU is currently funding 3.5-million-euro Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks project (MUNIN), similar to that of a planes autopilot, when one crew sets a course for vessel and leaves the ship, whereas another crew meets the vessel overseas close to the destination port and sails it to the pier.
The economies of the robotic cargo vessels are obvious: no crew costs (average $3,299 a day, or about 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large freighter, according to Moore Stephens LLP, quoted by Bloomberg), no life-support system expenses, more space for cargo in absence of a bridge, control cabin and staterooms. Apart from giving additional space for cargo, such ships would use 15 percent less fuel, according to Bloomberg.
But potential investment needed to make ships steer themselves to destination might be high enough to consider the idea financially unattractive.
I dont think personally that theres a huge cost-benefit in unmanned ships today, but technologically its possible, said Tor Svensen, chief executive officer of maritime for DNV GL, the largest company certifying vessels for safety standards, in early February. My prediction is that its not coming in the foreseeable future.
The UK-based International Association of Classification Societies so far hasnt developed unified rules for unmanned vessels operation.
Can you imagine what it would be like with an unmanned vessel with cargo on board trading on the open seas? You get in enough trouble with crew on board, the organizations secretary Derek Hodgson told Bloomberg in early January. There are an enormous number of hoops for it to go through before it even got onto the drawing board.
The London-based International Chamber of Shipping confirmed that drone ships are illegal under current international conventions. The chamber, representing over 80 percent of the global fleet, does not considering the issue serious at this point, shared spokesman Simon Bennett earlier in February.
Im not very much of a fan and think this is a long way off, said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency that has overseen global shipping for almost 70 years, so far hasnt received any proposals on unmanned or remote-controlled ships, spokeswoman Natasha Brown confirmed in an email. The IMOs regulations apply to any vessel exceeding 500 gross tons, battleships and fishing boats excluded.
Without complying with IMO regulations, no robotic ships would be considered seaworthy and eligible for insurance, stressed Andrew Bardot, secretary and executive officer of the London-based International Group of P&I Clubs, representing 90 percent of the world fleet.
Besides legal obstacles, there is a human factor as well as there are well over a million seafarers worldwide.
The International Transport Workers Federation, representing about 600,000 worlds skilled maritime specialists strictly oppose the innovation, warning of the dangers posed to the environment by unmanned vessels.
It cannot and will never replace the eyes, ears and thought processes of professional seafarers, maintained Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITFs seafarers section in London, in an emailed statement.
While Rolls-Royce maintains that unmanned ships are going to be more resistant to pirate attacks because there will be no crew to take hostage, others believe the drone ships will see piracy flourish, because any remotely-controlled mechanism could be hijacked or manipulated, just like the American spy drone RQ-170 Sentinel safely grounded by Iranian military in 2011.
Take the crews off a ship, and I will become a pirate, wrote user rubadubdoobie in comments on the Bloomberg website.
There are billions of dollars aboard nearly all of these ships. An unguarded ship, few security measures, billions of dollars as a sitting duck.... only a fool would NOT become a pirate, if there was literally no one to stop you or even ID you, wrote rubadubdoobie, adding that These ships would be an unguarded ATM sitting in the middle of the ocean.
Piracy made easy.
Ships once they leave port cruse by computer and digital charts to the next port already.
I would prefer a remote-controlled government, devoid of crooks, Marxists, and lying politicians instead. It would do far less damage to America and be a representation of the people who are supposed to be represented by it.
Is this Rolls-Royce or BMW?
Not necessarily. Doesn't piracy mean that the boarding party is able to assume control of the ship (powerplant, steering, etc)? I suspect the design will make that extremely difficult.
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BMW purchased the rights for the name for nothing years ago for somewhere around 66 million.
Great until something goes wrong.
There will always be a need to allow for control assumption via a human interface. So the difficulty will be how to assume the conrol. Still I could see these easily being introduced with a small cadre of personnel specifically for defensive purposes.
>>Piracy made easy.<<
Oh contrare. Not only are there no hostages to be taken but it could be armed to the teeth, internally and externally.
The biggest pushback to armed support on maritime vessels is the possible harm to vessel’s crew. No crew, no problem.
It could even be a video game: control a RL machine gun on the deck of a RR-run ship. Each pirate gets you $100...
Yup. But a crewed vessel can go manual to assist other distressed vessels....and improvise solutions as needed to complete a voyage. It is reckless to de-crew. And it’ll be costly when, like, the brakes fail. Software glitch. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Rolls Royce Holdings PLC (the company referenced here, stock symbol RR on the London exchange) is the aircraft and ship engine company.
>>Great until something goes wrong.<<
True for almost everything.
OK,I see,2 different holding companies which BMW had nothing to do with.
Not with battle droids on board.
Get use to the robot life.
You assume old fashioned piracy rather than gaining entry to the ships computers and redirecting it. No need to send out a boarding party to take control.
My SIL works for RR here in Indiana.
They do a lot of defense business.
You assumed flesh and blood pirates. A group or rogue nation with access to the right computer talent wouldn’t need to set foot on the ship to take it.
Geez,RR Holdings are huge on the market.
Make sure that the DeathBot Os is constantly updated.
There will always be a war with hackers.
But I can guarantee you that automobiles, trucks, airplanes, farm equipment and ships are going to follow this path.
The cost savings will drive the technology.
I think it’s a great idea. Sure it has its technical issues, every non-trivial endeavor does, but they will be addressed. I have faith in Rolls-Royce.
Yes, there are a couple of hoops. A vessel at sea that is abandoned is up for salvage grabs. You’d probably want to close that little loophole first.
The future is really there for us to grab if we want it. Amazing technology is available. The only impediment is government. They, along with their lawyers slow everything to a crawl until they can sufficiently rig the game to skim the profits.
A real paradise for a control freak government.
Not the ones from “The phantom menace”. They were hapless in the extreme. Now, automated defenses such as tasers and anasthetic gas would be more effective.
I am glad that you have faith in Rolls-Royce. I place mine elsewhere.
A couple of guards with weapons?
Actually it’s piracy made impossible, with no form of onboard control sure the pirates can get on the boat but they can’t do anything with it, and there’s no hostages.
Seems like the answer to piracy would be to have a rapid response security team that would fly in and kick butt whenever a piracy attempt was detected.
cargo ships have been sailing the seas with automatic pilot for years and many a smaller craft has been struck and sunk as they had no one awake to see aboard the cargo ship.
“It could even be a video game: control a RL machine gun on the deck of a RR-run ship. Each pirate gets you $100...”
I agree. I just watched the movie, “Captain Phillips”, on DVD this afternoon. I was appalled by the lack of defense capability of the ship and it’s crew. Not even a single handgun. If they had blown the pirates’ small attack boat out of the water before it even got close, there would have been far fewer lives put at risk. Political correctness gets people killed.
I made no mention of boarding parties; you assumed them.
Just because that it is computer controlled does not make it undefeatable.
Target credit card readers got hacked, but e-commerce goes on.
This trend isn't going away in my view.
A recent experiment (ships crew knew it was going to happen)was made where a ship operating in the automated (e-navigation) mode was electronically hijacked by an outside source without the crew knowing when it happened.
Security of the data stream can be done very easily. Just because a few companies fail doesn’t mean everything with a computer is instantly hacked. This ends piracy, they can’t be taken physically and they’ll make the computer secure, heck the computer ALREADY is secure, they’re mostly operated by computer now.
Bad ole DOS is still possible, jam the transmissions.
That may be, but I’m not changing my opinion of where all this is going.
Automobiles, trucks, ships, farm equipment, etc.
It’s gonna happen.
Despite all the hacking, e-commerce is accelerating not decreasing.
Not really, satellite point to point isn’t vulnerable to DOS and remember they’ve already got autopilot remote control will just be for when the plan needs to be changed.
I was thinking about this the other day. No crew would have serious benefit cost and liability wise but all modern ships have mechanics and engineers aboard to fix things as they break. And on all boats, big and small, things break pretty regularly. Maintenance intensive. If these unmanned ships are to use common modern engines, drives, electronics, miles of piping and wiring, and such.....who’s going to fix them when they break?
Nothing’s perfect of course and it might be possible to get it very good by means of spread spectrum. But it’s going to be a people problem. Do people want pilotless craft among piloted ones? If you are piloting another craft, how do you signal a sudden problem to the controllers of the pilotless craft?
One can’t jam satellite?
Not quite the same.
My PC is not a black market treasure trove like an unmanned freighter.
Fine, the trend isn’t going away. Enjoy you new masters filled with new power.
You’d use the existing method. Pretty much the only thing people are useful for on vessels now is respond to emergencies on their vessel or others. Send the SOS the radio will pick it up, which gets transmitted to the remote operator who then responds.
People will complain about it until the next big pilot error accident. That’s always what gets buy in on decreased pilot control.
Crews on both ends would perform repairs and maintenance. It’s just a pizza drone on steroids, but instead of a spindly little hover-copter carrying a cardboard box it’s a steel tube the size of a sperm whale packed with all manner of goodies.
Why not go to remotely piloted ships using satellite data links.
That’s how we operate long range drones now.
It would be lots cheaper than a physical crew aboard and it places an actual captain in command.
It’s not easy, the frequencies are all over the place, and which satellite are you going to jam? There’s tons up there and at most you’re using two (the one your RC is talking to and the one the boat is talking to), and there’s probably another dozen you have access to (it’s LOS for the entire sky).
I think that’s what they’re talking about.