Friday, February 28, 2014

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Rolls Royce proposes to build drone container ships

Rolls-Royce's Blue Ocean development team is proposing to build unmanned, drone-like container ships.

The team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel's bridge.

By removing the bridge structure where the crew would live as well as human needs such as electricity, air conditioning, sewage and water, the company could fit more containers on a ship – cutting costs and improving the bottom line.

Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and more eco-friendly for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says. They could be deployed in regions such as the Baltic Sea within a decade, while regulatory hurdles and industry and union skepticism about cost and safety will slow global adoption, said Oskar Levander, the company's vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology.

Many in the industry don't support the idea of an unmanned container ship.

It costs roughly $3,299 to support a crew each day at sea, or around 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large container ship, according to industry accounting and consulting firm Moore Stephens LLP.

Tor Svensen, chief executive officer of maritime for DNV GL, a company that issues safety certificates to container ships, said that's just not enough money to justify what it would cost to make unmanned ships safe.

The union that represents the majority of the world's mariners is against the idea, too. Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF's seafarers' section in London, said an unmanned vessel could never replace the eyes, ears and thought process of professional seafarers.

"Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction," Levander said by phone last month. "If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move."

For more of the Bloomberg story:

For more of the Techspot story:

More Techwire stories

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