Rolls-Royce eyes deepsea autonomous shipping before 2030

Marine propulsion solution provider Rolls-Royce has set a target of before the year 2030 for autonomous deepsea cargo ships to become reality.

On Monday, the company, in collaboration with Finnish state-owned ferry operator Finferries, demonstrated a fully autonomous ferry in the archipelago south of the city of Turku.

According to Oskar Levander, vice president of innovation at Rolls-Royce, the company is in talks with a number of shipowners and the interest in the technology is coming from different ship sectors.

“Our intention is definitely to go into deepsea shipping eventually. We have already seen clear demand from both shipowners and cargo owners for this type of operations,” Levander said.

However, Levander admitted it would be a long journey ahead and the company will work on it step by step, starting from local shipping to international shipping, and moving from ferry shipping to cargo shipping.

“If you look at the biggest containerships today, the business case for unmanned systems is quite marginal, but for smaller containerships, it’s completely different story, it is much more attractive. At the end of the day, it is still money that drives the development of the technology,” Levander said.

Legislation is a major challenge that needs to be tackled for the development of unmanned ships, Levander reckoned. “Regulations are not there yet for unmanned deepsea shipping,” he said, adding that the regulatory authorities including IMO are currently working on the issue.

In the past few years, Rolls-Royce has invested heavily in ship intelligence solutions, establishing an intelligent analytics center in Norway and a research and development center for autonomous ships in Finland to expand its digital landscape.

“Ship intelligence solutions apply to all ship segments. We are already delivering enhancements in vessel performance, operation and safety,” said Iiro Lindborg, general manager of remote and autonomous operations at Rolls-Royce.

In July, Rolls-Royce signed an agreement to sell its commercial marine business, including its ship intelligence activities, to Norwegian company Kongsberg. The deal will support Kongsberg’s goal to build the world’s first fully electric and autonomous containership, the Yara Birkeland, by 2020.

On the crewing side, Rolls-Royce believe the remote and autonomous (R&A) operations could see the transfer of seafaring jobs from sea to remote operations centers on land and make them more attractive to young people.

“We think capacity for vessels such as cargo will not need all the systems to support crew such as heating, ventilation, deck house, etc and an autonomous general cargo vessel will reduce transport costs by 20-30% compared to a more traditional vessel,” Lindborg said.

Rolls-Royce anticipates R&A short sea vessels could be put into operations around 2025 and R&A ocean going vessels could be realized before 2030 subject to regulations.



Jason Jiang

Jason is one of the most prolific writers on the diverse China shipping & logistics industry and his access to the major maritime players with business in China has proved an invaluable source of exclusives. Having been working at Asia Shipping Media since inception, Jason is the chief correspondent of Splash and associate editor of Maritime CEO magazine. Previously he had written for a host of titles including Supply Chain Asia, Cargo Facts and Air Cargo Week.
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