After flying drones and the coming of driverless cars it is the turn of autonomous ships. The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) is funding an €6.6 million project called the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative, which Rolls-Royce has been appointed to lead. The project aims to produce the specification and preliminary designs for the next generation of advanced ship solutions – the unmanned, “drone” cargo ship.
…… The project will run until the end of 2017 and will pave the way for solutions – designed to validate the project’s research. The project will combine the expertise of some of Finland’s top academic researchers from Tampere University of Technology; VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd; Åbo Akademi University; Aalto University; the University of Turku; and leading members of the maritime cluster including Rolls-Royce, NAPA, Deltamarin, DNV GL and Inmarsat.
Rauli Hulkkonen, Tekes, Chief Advisor, said: “This project is a fantastic opportunity to establish the Finnish maritime cluster as the world leader in maritime remote control technology.
Esa Jokioinen, Rolls-Royce, Head of Blue Ocean Team, said: “Rolls-Royce has extensive experience of successfully coordinating multi-disciplinary teams developing complex technologies. We bring a world leading range of capabilities in the marine market to the project including vessel design, the integration of complex systems and the supply and support of power and propulsion equipment. We are excited to be taking the first concrete steps towards making remote controlled and autonomous ship applications a reality.
The wide ranging project will look at research carried out to date before exploring the business case for autonomous applications, the safety and security implications of designing and operating remotely operated ships, the legal and regulatory implications and the existence and readiness of a supplier network able to deliver commercially applicable products in the short to medium term. The technological work stream, which will be led by Rolls-Royce, will encompass the implications of remote control and autonomy of ships for propulsion, deck machinery and automation and control, using, where possible, established technology for rapid commercialisation.
The Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean team is responsible for research and development of future maritime technologies and focuses on disruptive game-changing innovations. By combining new technologies with new approaches to ship design and system integration, the team aims to reduce operational costs, minimise emissions and enhance the earning capability of vessels. The team has developed a range of autonomous ship concepts as well as innovative designs for various ship types.
Robot ships are currently illegal and the whole maritime regulatory environment would need to be changed to suit. If driverless cars become a reality by 2020, then there is no reason why robot fleets of cargo ships could not be in use by 2030. Bureaucracy will probably be a bigger barrier than technology.