Rolls-Royce sails into 2019 with the successful test of an autonomous ship

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, most of the focus in recent years has been on self-driving cars and how they could one day transform the way we move around our towns and cities.

Rolls-Royce is taking a slightly different approach, viewing sea transportation as ripe for development when it comes to autonomous technology. The company has a plan to create a remotely controlled cargo ship within six years, and recently completed successful tests of an autonomous ship.

The project involved partnering with Finland’s Finferries to conduct its first test of an autonomous ferry in real-world conditions.

The trial took place near the Finnish city of Turku 90 miles west of Helsinki, and used a 53.8-meter-long car ferry called Falco that’s been retrofitted with Rolls-Royce Ship Intelligence technology. The kit includes an array of cameras and sensors placed around the ship to scan the nearby waters for approaching vessels. It also takes care of the all-important docking procedure at the end of its journey.

For the outward sailing from Parainen to Nauvo, Falco operated autonomously. For the return voyage, the team wanted to showcase how the ship can also be controlled remotely, if necessary. This part of the exercise involved an operator in a command center 30 miles away who guided the ship safely back to port. The entire test was conducted without any human intervention from staff on board the ship.

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce president of commercial marine, said the test marked “a huge step forward in the journey toward autonomous shipping and reaffirms exactly what we have been saying for several years, that autonomous shipping will happen.”

Makinen added that the demonstration is no longer a concept, with the technology now on course to “transform shipping as we know it.”

Finferries CEO Mats Rosin said: “As a modern shipowner, our main goal in this cooperation has been on increasing safety in marine traffic as this is beneficial for both the environment and our passengers. But we are also equally excited about how this demonstration opens the door to the new possibilities of autonomous shipping and safety.”

For more on Rolls-Royce’s long-term plans for the high seas, check out the striking design it has in mind for its autonomous cargo ship, which it’s aiming to put to work by 2025.

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