Autonomous ships are an emerging concept of Industry 4.0 with no-human intrusion
The concept of autonomous ships has been around for a while now. Recently, the initiative is gaining wide traction from investors, which eventually leads to major autonomous solution makers trying their hands in making autonomous ships. The new era of autonomous shipping is expected to shift the parody in terms of safety, security and environmental protection.
You might wonder why now, of all times autonomous shipping is gaining attention. It is because of the emerging advancement in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud computing, big data and augmented reality. The disruptive trends have brought the idea of autonomous shipping to reality. The shipping industry and the making of ships have undergone various stages of evolution. The initial shift started with the First Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when vessels used coals as fuel. The intervention of diesel engines came to effect during the Second Industrial Revolution in the 1900s. The computerised control of ships was introduced in the 1970s during the Third Industrial Revolution. Now it is time for the Fourth Industrial Revolution that holds a twist in technology.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) addressed the work on autonomous shipping in 2018. The organisation used the term ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)’ to denote the autonomous ships and defined them ‘as a vessel, which can operate independently of human interaction and broadly laid out levels of autonomy namely ships with automated processes and decision support, remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board and fully autonomous ship.’ Autonomous shipping saw unprecedented growth since then. Autonomous vessels can also reduce human error, decrease crewing costs, increase the safety of aquatic life, and increase fuel efficiency. According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), maritime vessels constitute 90% of all international trade. Using autonomous ship for the process will turn things upside down. It is anticipated to increase the sustainability and efficiency of the trade sector.
Major technologies used in autonomous ships
Sensor fusion: Sensor technology is something that is seeing a great number of adaption in making autonomous vehicles. Since autonomous ships follow certain mechanisms similar to autonomous vehicles, sensor fusion is being a part of the initiative. Sensor technologies provide a vessel or its remote operators with an accurate perspective on the vessel’s surroundings at all times and in all conditions.
Control algorithms: Algorithms are what control autonomous ships from getting into maritime accidents. Algorithms need perfecting, as it mandates an interpretation of maritime rules and regulations. However, the process needs extensive testing and simulations.
Communication and connectivity: Communication plays a pivotal role in autonomous ship. Even though it is autonomous, a lot of input and connections from the land is necessary. Henceforth, autonomous ships are designed to use communication technologies to address the challenge.
Autonomous ship making initiatives so far
While most of the traditional maritime industry has been debating the positive and negative sides, and legalities of autonomous vessels, a number of companies across the world have already started working densely on it. Europe is emerging as a frontrunner in the autonomous ship making sector with major companies like Rolls-Royce and Kongsberg Maritime initiating the move. Rolls-Royce has collaborated with Finnish state-owned ferry operator Finferries on a research project called Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN). In 2018, the company also joined hands with Intel for a more sophisticated and intelligent shipping system. In 2019, Kongsberg Maritime acquired Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine (RRCM), which eventually led to leadership in maritime digitisation, ship intelligence and enabling futuristic technologies for autonomous vessels.
As Europe takes the lead, South Korea is also trying to make its stand in autonomous ship making. SK Telecom and Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) announced the successful testing of the industry’s first 5G-based autonomous and remote-control centre, which will be used in autonomous ship making.
Globally, the threat of ship collisions is increasing. Approximately 3,000 marine collisions take place every year, costing companies up to US$20 billion. Technology is used as an exit door to run out of such expensive accidents. Machine learning avoidance systems in ships can collect data based on position, speed, and routine to suitably assess the risk of collision. Another major threat to the global environment is increasing the use of non-renewable resources. Technologies used in autonomous ship helps minimize or nullify fuel usage.