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Old 08-07-2016, 18:18   #1
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Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

Rolls-Royce and the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) believe the future of cargo transportation is autonomous and they have published an 88 page white paper (PDF) to prove it.

Rolls-Royce reckons robot cargo ships are the future of the seas • The Register
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Old 09-07-2016, 14:27   #2
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

IMO, the purpose of Rolls-Royce in publishing this is to make the headlines. It works.

I think that the legal obstacles to autonomous "robot" ships isn't the most difficult to overcome. The main problem is reliability: to be able to run without crew, a ship would have to be 100% reliable, without breakages, failures, fires, water ingress, etc. This will not happen soon.

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Old 10-07-2016, 00:05   #3
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

Decades ago I worked for a company which operated offshore oil producing platforms. The production systems on the platforms were supposed to be unmanned with computer control. It had never worked and consequently the platforms had to be manned 24 hours/day.


The crew went on strike and the company decided to keep the platforms operating using staff personnel. Within a few days the shut downs had ceased and the platforms could be operated unmanned. The crew had been interfering with the high/low settings on the equipment to ensure the platforms remained manned.


Perhaps the ships would be more reliable without crew?
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Old 10-07-2016, 01:01   #4
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

When I was a commercial fisherman off the US West Coast, an average of 12 boats a year were run down by freighters with live crews. Most boat crews weren't recovered. That was some time ago, but that didn't include private boats. Smaller boats often get lost in sea clutter on radar screens. Heavy laden ships turn in wide circles and don't respond quickly. Computers, sensors, and circuit boards fail.
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Old 10-07-2016, 01:30   #5
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

Let's put the 'reliability' issues aside for a moment and think if the economic costs to society.

There would be many hundreds of thousands of people who work in the freight business. Many, maybe most, receive very little, but it's still a reliable occupation and a way of providing for family.

Look at what automation has done so far for the lives of workers? What has it done for all the gains of the industrial era?

Yes, automation is a huge cost benefit to large rich corporations and their boards and ceo's. But, automation also cuts jobs and puts people into poverty.

What will ultimately be the cost to many non first world countries or developing countries if many low paid seafarers loose the only way for them to provide for them and their families? No health care, no welfare, unable to afford education?

For a start, would we see piracy increase? Theft or even worse.

In some many ways we are looking to a dim future for many.
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Old 10-07-2016, 05:26   #6
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

I think its going to happen sooner rather than later. I dont think they will be unmanned, a small skeleton crew will be aboard to repair and monitor, and investigate alarms. It will likely be run more like a UMS engineroom, with an on call officer to deal with any alarms due to situations that fall outside set parameters. In coastal waters or heavy traffic full watches would still be needed, but deep sea an unmanned bridge seems feasible, enabling the endless paperwork and planned maintenance to be dealt with. Berthing crews may be needed to help handling lines.

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Old 10-07-2016, 06:41   #7
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rustic Charm View Post
Let's put the 'reliability' issues aside for a moment and think if the economic costs to society.

There would be many hundreds of thousands of people who work in the freight business. Many, maybe most, receive very little, but it's still a reliable occupation and a way of providing for family.

Look at what automation has done so far for the lives of workers? What has it done for all the gains of the industrial era?

Yes, automation is a huge cost benefit to large rich corporations and their boards and ceo's. But, automation also cuts jobs and puts people into poverty.

What will ultimately be the cost to many non first world countries or developing countries if many low paid seafarers loose the only way for them to provide for them and their families? No health care, no welfare, unable to afford education?

For a start, would we see piracy increase? Theft or even worse.

In some many ways we are looking to a dim future for many.
Ignoring the fact that the standard of living in western countries has been on a steady upward trend even with automation creating supposed poverty...

If the goal is to provide, charity, just fund a charity. There are plenty out there, so pick one that matches your preference.

Back to the original point: As suggested, there will likely be a skeleton crew at least initially but if you can cut the crew from 15 to 3, that's a big savings.

Given the human ability to really stand watch 24/7 with complete focus, there is no reason to expect any degradation in safety.

Outside of current hotspots, piracy is likely not much of an issue. Pirates rely on the crew to pilot a hijacked ship to a new destination by threatening the crew. Assuming no crew, the owner can shut down the engines until the authorities arrive...or even better, pilot the ship to the authorities with the pirates onboard. If it really was a concern, a half dozen automated water cannons, could more safely repel pirates than guys dodging bullets with fire hoses.

The biggest hurdle is the cost of 3rd world crew. If the crew is cheap enough, they will continue to use crew. As soon as it is cheap enough, they will switch to automation. To pretend anything else will happen is foolishness.
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Old 10-07-2016, 10:56   #8
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Re: Self Driving Ship on the Horizon?

Having spent many years working on RR marine equipment I certainly hope its not happening any time soon. They are simply the last in a long line of mergers gobbling up what used to be excellent specialized marine companies. They buy or copy something and the quality and reliablity always goes down. What was once produced locally for a small business is now out sourced to the lowest bidder.

This drone boat concept is most troubling in it's apparent complete disconnect between real vessel operations and distilled board rm reality. The leading purpose for automation is efficiancy and more $$. Yes safety can get thrown in there but at the end of the day nothing is going to get sold unless it can be shown it will make you more $$. A drilling platform is in no way comparable to a vessel underway, yes they are both on the water, but the varibles between one and the other are expodentially different.

Yes commercial vessels with very small QA cews to oversee systems are going to happen and probably sooner than later, but a human free vessel is not around the courner. Or at least I hope it isn't if I'm heading that way....
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