The Rolls-Royce of drone ships

Germany (Hamburg)

We are on the verge of a massive technological development in maritime transport, potentially the biggest since the transition from wind to steam power. At the forefront is a collaborative research project called MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) and Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean.

The European team are addressing the issue that being on a trans-oceanic ship for weeks can be dangerous and expensive. Their three-year project is developing the technology needed to eliminate crew by running unmanned vessels at lower speeds, saving fuel and reducing CO2 and other emissions – as well as showing how this will benefit non-autonomous ships, like a ripple effect. The shipping industry across Europe is facing a combination of challenges including increased transport volumes, growing ecological regulation and a shortage of employees willing to spend long stretches at sea. Automated shipping solutions therefore present opportunities to make the industry more attractive and sustainable.

Automated decision making systems will improve the operational efficiency of ships, whilst reducing space and costs associated with accommodating a crew. With reduced need for heating, air conditioning, sewage systems and lifeboats, greater space for cargo is made available. This will enable ships to be redesigned, creating a sleeker shape and making it much harder for pirates to hijack. Greater monitoring of navigational information and the option of sailing at reduced speeds could allow for improved environmental performance of vessels.

At the 2016 Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium in Amsterdam, Rolls-Royce’s vice president of marine innovation, Oskar Levander said we will see a remote-controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist.” MUNIN will then look for ways to adapt fleets to become fully robotic freighters controlled via remote – making “Aye, aye captain!” a thing of the past.

Written by

Lisa Goldapple, Editor, Atlas of the Future (25 June 2016)

Project leader

Hans-Christoph Burmeiste, Project Manager, Fraunhofer Institute

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Images: Rolls Royce/ Flickr

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