Print 24 comment(s) - last by superstition.. on Mar 3 at 3:01 PM

Crewless ships would be able to carry more cargo and burn less fuel

When we talk about drones, we are typically talking about the unmanned aircraft that are used for surveillance and attack mission by the U.S. military. Currently one in three of the aircraft in the US military is a drone, and that will likely increase over time.
Rolls-Royce has its eyes on a new type of drone that may be able to cut the cost of shipping goods on massive container ships significantly. The Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc Blue Ocean development team is working on a next generation drone ship that needs no human crew. The drone ships are controlled using a 360-degree VR simulation of the bridge on a ship.
The team believes that eventually the captain of a ship will use this VR system to control his giant vessel as it slips through the ocean waters. The drone ships would be much cheaper to operate according to the group. They say that the crew aboard a ship costs roughly $3,299 per day and accounts for 44% of the total operating expense of a large container ship.

However, not everyone in the shipping industry is behind the plan. Tor Scensen, CEO of maritime for DNV GL, a company that certifies vessels to safety standards said, "I don’t think personally that there’s a huge cost-benefit in unmanned ships today, but technologically it’s possible. My prediction is that it’s not coming in the foreseeable future.”
The International Transport Workers Federation is a union that represents about 600,000 ship workers and it is of course opposed to drone ships. “It cannot and will never replace the eyes, ears and thought processes of professional seafarers,” added Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF’s seafarers’ section in London. “The human element is one of the first lines of defense in the event of machinery failure and the kind of unexpected and sudden changes of conditions in which the world’s seas specialize. The dangers posed to the environment by unmanned vessels are too easily imagined.”
The drone ships will use redundant systems like aircraft and sensors for navigation and avoiding dangers in the water ahead. They would replace life support systems -- like HVAC and sewage -- to haul more cargo. With less gear to haul around, the lighter ships would also burn less fuel.

Source: Bloomberg

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By xenol on 2/27/2014 12:19:34 PM , Rating: 1
The only thing you could really make unmanned is the navigation system... which most modern ships I hear are these days.

Ships are out longer away from any kind of service station, they need at least a skeleton crew to keep the "engine oiled" and something of a small security detachment to deter would-be pirates and thieves from looting the thing.

Even unmanned aerial drones, while they can be autonomous, have someone at a console to ensure things are going smoothly. And they can be, sans the operator, completely unmanned because they only go out for less than a days worth of time on sortie.

By Nutzo on 2/27/2014 4:48:17 PM , Rating: 2
something of a small security detachment to deter would-be pirates and thieves from looting the thing.

Pirate generally don't loot the ship, they hold the crew hostage for a cash payout. No Crew=No cash payout.

These ships could be setup to make it difficult for anyone to get on board to loot them. No need to leave room for the crew to walk around.

By DougF on 2/27/2014 4:56:05 PM , Rating: 1
No need to get on board, just drive up to the side, hack the nav system into thinking your port is it's destination, and voila, you have a cargo ship at your disposal.

By FaaR on 2/27/2014 6:00:33 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, just that, eh? Drive up to it, hack the nav system. So easy a child could have thought of it.

Now, how to "hack the nav system"? I know! You hook up a macbook to it, give the ship a virus. That'll make the shields drop, allowing you to fire the nuke... Crap. Wrong movie!

By geddarkstorm on 2/27/2014 7:50:25 PM , Rating: 2
Or just do what Iran did to capture one of our drones, and spoof the GPS. There are many ways to skin a cat; but as you say, it likely isn't that big a worry.

However, none of this addresses the glaring mechanical/maintenance/storm preparation needs a ship has while out on the water, which requires a crew.

By jihadjoe on 3/1/2014 8:50:09 AM , Rating: 2
As with the attack on the drone, easy if you just want to crash, hard if you actually want to navigate the ship to a specific port (or pirate cave) of choice.

By FaaR on 2/27/2014 6:07:33 PM , Rating: 3
You'd ALWAYS need a crew on a ship, always. Else, what the hell do you do when (not if; WHEN) there is a fire? Engine failure? Hell, blown fuse.

A container vessel worth a billion plus, with hundreds of millions' worth of cargo on it, and some wankers get their panties in a bind over thousands in crew salaries? Jesus. Talk about loss of priorities.

A big ship like that could easily be lost, cargo and all, due to some stupid fault a person with two hands and a brain could have fixed long before it got serious/dangerous.

By HostileEffect on 2/27/2014 11:22:00 PM , Rating: 3
Titanic... two hands and a brain sank it.

By w8gaming on 3/2/2014 9:55:30 PM , Rating: 2
And a lot of non-Titanic that brains have saved. Just because no one wrote about it does not mean these did not happen.

By Chadder007 on 2/27/2014 12:03:07 PM , Rating: 5
I bet pirates are excited about this...

RE: Pirates
By HrilL on 2/27/2014 5:28:29 PM , Rating: 3
I was thinking about this too. But if its a ship that is only controlled remotely. What are they going to do? Ride it until it gets to the port it was heading to? Also the crew is what is valued by pirates most of the time. They use them to get ransom money so if they're not on the ship then they get no ransom for the crew.

RE: Pirates
By Manch on 3/2/2014 8:32:31 AM , Rating: 2
illegal immigrants would love these things.

Same old argument...
By gookpwr on 2/27/2014 2:48:23 PM , Rating: 2
This is just the same thing people were saying about pilots, and how they could never be replaced. It can happen and if the all mighty dollar can be made off doing so it WILL happen.

Protest or deny it all you want but hey news flash they are already landing unmanned drones onto aircraft carriers they said that would never happen too.

RE: Same old argument...
By geddarkstorm on 2/27/2014 7:58:16 PM , Rating: 2
Pilots don't have to perform maintenance or repair on their plane in flight. Both since they don't fly long enough that it would be a routine worry, and because they really can't. If something goes wrong, the only solution is to try to land.

A ship doesn't have that luxury. It will always need maintenance and repairs during the long duration of travel by sea. Never mind if any problems arise, which for a crew would be simple to address, but which would be disastrous for a drone ship and its cargo.

We really don't have that level of reliable technology yet. Maybe one day though. Or maybe one day we'll have robots to act as a crew. But not now.

RE: Same old argument...
By sorry dog on 2/28/2014 11:22:24 PM , Rating: 2
Actually I think the almighty dollar works against it.

First of all the numbers in the article don't sound right. $3,300 a day for the crew is 43% so the fuel, oil, port fees, lock fees, etc. are only 3500 to 4000? No way. Engines probably burn 100 gal an hour or more at $4 a gallon not to mention a ticket though Panama can be a five or six figure number. At the end of the day, I bet the actual crew cost is a single digit percentage, and much of that labor will just be deferred until shore based crew does the maintenance, rigging, etc. But now, you have to add a risk component to your cost equation, and I bet the cost of one major accident will pay for several years of crews.

RE: Same old argument...
By Manch on 3/2/2014 9:35:20 AM , Rating: 2
per day. A quick search puts avg time between the China & the US @ 3wks. That would be around 69K.

I then did a little bit more digging. This paper is based off of 1978 dollars using Australian crews, diesel engine ships only but the percentage break down should be the close even now.

14000 & 35000 DWT Container ship daily at sea cost (Chapter 8)
Capital Costs 4.6k & 10K
Equipment 2.4k & 6.2K
Insurance 376 & 872
Maintenance 460 & 1K
Crewing 4.2K & 4.2K
Victuals 466 & 466
Fuel 4.5K & 13K

So crew costs are a huge chunk of the pie.

Ah huh...
By coburn_c on 2/27/2014 2:59:10 PM , Rating: 3
Load the cargo with computers, pilot the ship with computers, unload the ship with computers... it's genius as long as you don't need anyone to be able to buy the cargo.

Design it away
By djc208 on 2/28/2014 7:40:29 AM , Rating: 3
Everyone is all hung up on the maintenance aspect but the company is talking about a new design, not retrofitting an existing ship, so you design much of the "manual" maintenance out of it. We've done it with cars over how many years. Sealed bearings, automatic oilers, machine telemetry, vibration analysis, etc.

Then an engineer can virtually check on the systems, and if needed you fly a maintenance crew out to fix it for the day, or send a service ship out to deal with it.

But how many fewer systems do you have to worry about if you don't need a habitable environment onboard? Minimal fresh water, no sewage, minimal HVAC, lighting, and no food or crew areas means a lot of space and complexity saved.

By ERROR666 on 2/27/2014 12:15:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, they may.. or may There are many things that may or may not replace other things. What a concept.

pulling into port?
By kattanna on 2/27/2014 2:20:12 PM , Rating: 2
now while out in the open ocean I could see this working.. sorta, but when any large ship pulls into a port you always have a local guide who boards the ship and directs through the port where to go and how to dock. how would this person interact with a crewless ship?

i see that as one of the biggest hurdles.. well that and basic maintenance people

dumb idea
By w8gaming on 3/2/2014 9:51:27 PM , Rating: 2
Pirates just need to jam the transmission signals and then board the ship and rob it.

drone ship for cheap goods only
By w8gaming on 3/2/2014 10:11:08 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I supposed since pirates can easily rob a drone ship, the whole idea is for drone ships to deliver mundane and cheap goods such as agricultural products, that pirates will find it not worthwhile to offload from the drone ship due to low profitability. The only way pirates will be interested in getting the ship will be to steal the ship altogether and sail it to a friendly port to sell off the goods, as well as dismantle the ship and sell off the parts.

By superstition on 3/3/2014 3:01:16 PM , Rating: 2
Drones Will Replace Man in the Future

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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