A Future for Waterborne Drones?

Rolls Royce

Published Aug 10, 2015 12:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Drone ships may be the next generation of shipping. Rolls Royce recently launched a $7.2 million autonomous ship project intended to pave the way for drone vessels. The Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative will produce specifications and preliminary designs for next generation ship solutions. The project will run through 2017.

The primary aims of the project is traffic reduction in the European waterways, which will aim at in complying with environmental requirements as well as reducing costs. By eliminating the kitchens, mess decks and living quarters required for mariners, the Rolls Royce unmanned ship could potentially store more cargo and expend less fuel.

The project is funded by Tekes, a Finnish Funding Agency for Technology Innovation, and Rolls Royce. The Initiative is also using the expertise of ship designers, universities, equipment manufacturers and classification societies to explore the economic, social and regulatory viability of drone vessels.

Obvious regulatory issues must be addressed before the drone ships are deployed.  International Maritime Organization conventions dictate a minimum crew requirement for various commercial vessels. Currently, unmanned ships are illegal.

Rolls Royce states that unmanned vessels could be safer than human crewed ships citing human error as a leading cause of maritime accidents.