Robotic Ships– Future for Waterways

U-News Staff

Human crews are inconvenient in the shipping industry. They need places to sleep and  take care of bodily functions. They require food and a place to prepare that food. They can only work so many hours a day continuously. Also, crew members and their accommodations have weight, which means increased fuel costs for ocean-going vessels, making it very expensive to operate.

If it were possible to move ships to and from ports without human effort, shipping could get a lot cheaper.

To overcome the technical challenges of making ships that sail without sailors, a multi-country group under the European Union is working on a project called Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN). The project’s main aim is to develop autonomous ships that can be controlled from shore when needed.

These next generation crew-less ships would have multiple fail-safe mechanisms built into all systems. To deal with piracy, the ships would be fitted with a range of countermeasures that could easily disable any unauthorized person from attempting to board the ship.

These robot-based ships would be controlled from virtual bridges or from a master bridge on board a single ship. The bridge would be electronically connected to a dozen or more ships each installed with on-board global positioning, sonar, radar, remote navigation and collision detection systems supported by 360-degree cameras.

Removing the human crew wouldn’t just save the costs of keeping the crew alive but it would also reduce accidents caused by human error. Humans are not reliable when performing repetitive tasks, but robots have no problems with it.

The real challenge for unmanned shipping similar to commercial drones will come by two ways:

  • development of technology for safe remote operation
  • modernization of laws governing transportation

These robotic ships would completely change the way goods are shipped overseas.


Author: Anuraag Paramkusham