Pirates, eat your heart out: Rolls-Royce envisions crewless drone freight ships

Rolls-Royce doesn’t just make cars. Technically, the Rolls-Royce this story refers to doesn’t make cars at all, as it sold its car division to BMW back in the 1990s. No, the Roll-Royce I’m talking about is the jet engine and ship manufacturer. And its Ocean Blue team has a wild new idea: crewless drone freighters.

The ships, envisioned above, work much like self-driving cars or drones, along with remote human intervention, by relying on cameras and sensors to autonomously pilot their course. The Rolls team has constructed a virtual prototype of the autonomous ship bridge in its offices in Alesund, Norway, where it is running simulations of the operating system.

The London-based company claims the ships would be faster, cheaper to operate, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

Oskar Levander, the company’s vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology told Bloomberg: “Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction. If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.”

Understandably, there’s much pushback from ship worker unions and as well as some regulatory hurdles to overcome before the self-piloted ships set sail. That said, Rolls anticipates the drone vessels to be in the Baltic Sea within a decade.

The European Union is encouraging the research with a $4.8 million study called the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN), which is a GPS system that would keep drone ships from falling off course.

According to Business Insider, “MUNIN catches sight of the smaller ship well in advance, identifies that it will crash if it stays on the same course, then reroutes, following the green arrow to prevent an accident.”

We’re quite intrigued by the drone ship concept and will be following the story closely. So be sure to check back often for updates.

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