Now that self-driving cars are hitting the roads for testing, it looks like self-driving ships are primed to take over the waters.
Rolls-Royce will move towards autonomous ferries and cargo ships to carry goods and luggage on sea routes without a crew. These cargo ships will be remote-controlled through intelligent automation software. The company partnered with Finland’s Fin ferries for their first project and recently completed its first test of an autonomous ferry near the Finnish city of Turku.
This trial was conducted on the 53.8-meter long ferry named Falco, which was retrofitted with the Rolls-Royce’s Ship Intelligence technology kit. This kit consisted of cameras and sensors that were placed around the ship to detect the motion in the water. The intelligent system is designed to monitor surrounding vessels as well as manage the docking procedures at the end of the journey.
Around 80 VIP guests were on-board for the ship test, but there was no human intervention involved in the ship’s navigation. The ship voyaged for a good 400 hours of sea trials. While the ship employs a collision-avoidance system, it does allow a human to take control of the ship at the first sign of a problem.
The ship was tested in two phases. The first phase consisted of the autonomous drive trial of the ship; in the second phase, the ship was operated remotely by an operator in command who was 30 miles away from the ship. The operator in command guided the ship safely towards its home port. The entire journey was autonomous as it did not require even the slightest human intervention.
The president of Rolls-Royce, Mikael Makinen was extremely happy with the successful test of the ship and said in a press release:
“Today marks a huge step forward in the journey towards autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen,”
He further said,
This is a very proud moment for all of us and marks our most significant milestone so far. Today’s demonstration proves that the autonomous ship is not just a concept, but something that will transform shipping as we know it.
Makinen was positive that autonomous transport vehicles will transform shipping across the globe.
Finferries’ CEO Mats Rosin added:
We are very proud that maritime history has been made on the Parainen-Nauvo-route once again. First with our world-renowned hybrid vessel Elektra and now Falco as the world’s first autonomous ferry. As a modern ship-owner, our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers. But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety.
Rolls-Royce says the new autonomous ships should be functional on a large scale by 2025. This will no doubt change the course of sea transport and shipping.