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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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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.

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