Drone Ships May Replace Manned Standard Cargo Ships in the Future
February 27, 2014 7:48 AM
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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.
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Design it away
2/28/2014 7:40:29 AM
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.
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