Rolls-Royce autonomous container ship

A huge container ship, driving autonomously over the seas without a soul on board. Instead, stands the captain ashore and controls the sea giant with a VR glasses. This vision by Rolls-Royce to become in 2020 a reality.

Do you know the Hollywood film Captain Phillips? Tom Hanks plays Richard Philips, Captain of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. In future, pirates could look pretty in the tube if they hijack a ship. Because Rolls-Royce has the vision that ships in the future autonomous gondolas across the oceans – no crew on board.

This would provide additional benefits in addition to the increased security. Shipping companies could save on personnel costs and carry more goods, because the ship needs no accommodations for the crew.

Autonomous vessels should be operational already 2020

And the vision could become reality in four years. “We will see remote-controlled vessels in the commercial operation at the end of the Decade”, says Oskar Levander, Vice President marine innovations at Rolls Royce. “The technologies that are necessary for remote-controlled and autonomous vessels already exist.”

Commando ashore
Commando ashore: here, the crew will remotely control the robot ships and monitor. Photo: Rolls-Royce

To further explore their usage, the group who actually designed cars and engines, has founded an initiative called advanced autonomous waterborne applications (Aawa). You is currently testing a number of sensors on a 65-meter ferry in Finland.

The autonomous vessel monitoring system is already ready for use according to Levander.

The control of the ship is futuristic, when there is a port. A captain from flesh and blood will take over that fact remains. However, he will not be on board, but in a control center on land. There, he sits on the nose a virtual-reality glasses and immerse in a virtual Commando.

Looking through the VR goggles
Looking through the VR goggles: the captain sees the surrounding area of the vessel. Also wind speed and the distance to objects are visible in the field of vision. Photo: Rolls-Royce

He can drive not only the ship in the port, but send even drones in the air, to discover possible irregularities in the environment or in the ship’s hull.

The US Navy also relies on robot ships

Also engineers of the University of Plymouth in England working on autonomous vessels. You build a sailing ship, to 2020 cross the Atlantic independent GPS and foldable sailing with solar energy. “If we are able to put a Rover on Mars, who researches there independently, then we can send also an unmanned ship across the Atlantic and later around the world”, says Professor Kevin Jones.

Also the US Navy is convinced, that ushers in a new era of navigation with Actuv. The robot ship nicknamed Sea Hunter to track down autonomously enemy submarines and track.