Automation and transportation have come together in the air in the form of drones. On land, many tech companies and automakers are working on self-driving cars. Although we don’t hear quite as much about is the application of the technology to transport over water, we may see it become a reality within just a few years.
Back in 2014, Rolls Royce presented its concept for an autonomous ship.
The BBC report quoted Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce's vice president of innovation, engineering and technology, "Now it is time to consider a road map to unmanned vessels of various types. Sometimes what was unthinkable yesterday is tomorrow's reality.”
However, the law had not yet caught up to that reality. Simon Bennett, a representative of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), ascertained that international law still did not allow for crewless ships. He told the BBC that a legal change "would require a complete overhaul of the regulatory regime.”
There are those working on achieving that change. The BBC report referred to an EU-funded project working toward ships that could function without crews. Called Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence (MUNIN). In addition to making it technically feasible, MUNIN aims to work out the necessary changes in legislation to allow autonomous ships to function.
It envisions “highly advanced navigation systems” that would analyze conditions toavert accidents. As in the case of some of these sensor systems engineered to enable autonomous functions in cars, the plan is to apply the technology even for ships that are driven by people, as they could “support the officer of the watch.” That in itself could prove very valuable in light of the “human error” blamed for the recent collision of the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship.