Is marine tech about to go the same way as driverless cars? These have been making headlines for a while now but while the roads of our towns and cities are yet to be populated by autonomous vehicles, this technology of the future is nonetheless proving that it’s not just a flash in the pan.

While we may not be ready to hand over the school run or the daily commute to a robot, the same can’t be said for commercial vehicles and companies are increasingly turning to autonomous modes of transport.

Your guide to marine tech and autonomous ships

Just think of automated subway trains, AGVs - automatic guided vehicles - and forms of industrial self-driving maritime transportation, some of which are already being used in container ports.  

And now, thanks to the evolution of relevant marine tech such as improved connectivity at sea (a huge deal for seafarers), advancements in support software and an upgrade in sensor technology, there is a growing interest in new ship designs, namely autonomous and remotely controlled ships.

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Difference between autonomous and remotely controlled ships

An autonomous ship is fitted with state-of-the-art support systems that are able to make independent operational decisions on their own and without the need for a human controller. Meanwhile a remotely controlled vessel IS operated by a human, but one who will usually be positioned at a land-based virtual bridge.

All of these developments are incredibly exciting for the maritime industry and the scope for adopting these various marine tech solutions and applications is varied. Greater productivity and profitability through the automation and subsequent streamlining of processes are a major benefit in any industry but in shipping, where the timely delivery of cargo is of the essence, it’s set to be a real plus.

A safer future for maritime transport?

And it’s not just delivery ETAs that will benefit from automation, as support systems that will alert a ship’s crew to the danger of a collision are also set to usher in a new, safer era of shipping.

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Even the environment stands to gain as autonomous shipping presents an alternative to road-based logistics. By choosing maritime transport over trucks, congestion on our already crowded roads could be dramatically reduced, along with the dangers of air pollution.  

Who is seriously considering autonomous shipping?

A number of nations are now researching and trialing the feasibility of new ship designs and autonomous transportation, including Japan, the USA, Norway, Singapore and Finland. In fact, the Norwegians have even created the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships as a means of promoting autonomous shipping and are using the Trondheim Fjord as a testing ground for these types of ships.

Obstacles to overcome in autonomous shipping

As the countries investigating the possibilities of unmanned shipping and new ship designs know full well, with any implementation of a technology of the future, trials must be carried out. Everything from the dependability of a vessel’s machinery to the on-board sensors, to the stability and cyber security of software must be absolutely foolproof.

There is also the matter of adhering to national and international shipping regulations and laws. That said, with the breakneck speed that marine tech is defining modern life and industry, we doubt it will be long before the maritime industry sees some very interesting changes taking place.

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