Roadmap to autonomous ships outlined at SMM

Speakers debated the realisation of autonomous ships this afternoon at the Global Maritime Environmental Congress, an event at this year’s SMM exhibition in Hamburg.

Oskar Levander, vice president at Rolls-Royce Marine, who has been leading a research project into the subject, reckoned a realistic roadmap would see autonomous ships operating on deepsea trades by 2035.

On the unmanned trend in society, Levander said: “It’s only a question of when it is coming to marine, not if.” The technological leap would make shipping more safe and efficient, Levander argued.

Rolls-Royce expects a 22% cut in transport costs for a 20,000 dwt general cargo unmanned vessel.

In terms of energy reduction, with cutting out the deck house, which would reduce both weight and wind resistance, combined with the lack of seafarers onboard would help reduce power consumption onboard by 10 to 15% for a bulker, Levander predicted.

Ronald Spithout, president of comms firm Inmarsat Maritime, said shipping needed to catch up with many other industries when it comes to technology uptake.

“The maritime industry is actually quite late to adopt the internet and business applications,” he said.
Kirsi Tikka, president and coo of classification society ABS Europe reckoned the biggest challenge on the path to autonomy is still the gap between human and artificial intelligence.

“It will take time until we can rely on data in a safe way as we can do on human minds,” Tikka said.
Statutory regulation will need to change, Tikka added, pointing out how safe manning levels will need to be revisited for instance.

Dr Martin Stopford, president of Clarksons Research, lambasted shipowners for their inefficiency – something he argued that could be fixed by moving towards so called smart shipping.

“We’re going to need four times as much cargo by 2065 at least,” Stopford pointed out. “The industry is not managing the business,” he continued, observing how tankers back in 1973 were achieving 50,000 ton/miles, a figure which had slumped to 26,000 ton/miles by 2015.

“What business are we in that gets less efficient and does nothing about it?” Stopford moaned.

Splash will be reporting from SMM all week.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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