By Marcus Wohlsen

Rolls Royce is moving toward a world where a single tap on a smartphone could set a massive cargo ship in motion half a world away.

As reported by Bloomberg, the company best known for luxury cars is designing drone cargo ships it says would be cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive than the manned ocean freighters that transport most of the world’s cargo today. If the project succeeds, these un-captained vessels could become a key link in a human-free global supply chain of consumer goods.

The push for drone container ships is part of a much larger effort in the logistics industry to automate the way goods and products move from place to place. Amazon is already using warehouse robots to move stuff inside its formidable order fulfillment operation, which has made cheap two-day delivery the industry standard. The online retailer has even promised delivery by tiny unmanned aircraft, though these are still more fantasy than reality. Google’s self-driving cars, on the other hand, are already on California highways. If the search giant follows through with its early efforts to compete with Amazon in the retail game, these autonomous vehicles could become a driverless fleet for the last mile of online order fulfillment.

Full article here: Drone Cargo Ships

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  • Hmm, on the pirating front I would have thought no controls(or not enabled at that time) would mean no steering back to bad guys area so drifting at sea with no on board food, water etc. no Crew to ransom. This would more likely end piracy with a few clever ideas. Just a thought
  • Moderator

    Ignoring practicalities of running the ship, the pirate thing did also strike me.  I can just imagine a boat with a heli / crane pull up near it and lifting off cargo (or dropping people on board).  James Bond-esque? Perhaps, but necessity is the mother of invention.

  • I see the press photo doesn't have them sailing in a gigantic storm...

  • Just wait till someone launches the da Vinci virus. 

  • Ahhh. And it sounds like just servicing everything at the terminals is not practical.

    I was thinking more along the lines of a lead ship with crew and several autonomous ships following scheme.
  • The trend over the last years has been to reduce crew staffing requirements already. In the 80's you could still find 45 people on board a large vessel, but at the end of the 90's that was already reduced to 22-24.

    That means the crew is already 100% allocated to doing a job, so how you'd distribute that across a fleet would be a weird concept. Plus, you'd have a cook working in one vessel, so does that mean they all have to jump over to the one that has the food on it, or do people bring their astronaut food containers?

    It's not that a ship is so complex, just that there's a lot of work to do for maintenance with so many apparatus's around. You get safety equipment for extinguishing fires, a 10m high engine, 4 aux. engines for electricity, 3 air compressors, x2 fuel pumps, pumps for dirty sludge, valves, pipes, electricity lines, electricity distribution board, airco for crew, reefer containers with individual refrigeration units, 3 fire pumps, emergency pump, emergency aux. engine... I could go on for hours. They all need checks, maintenance, oil changed or have stuff overhauled because ships have to run for 20 years to recover the investment.

  • Why is this too particularly improbable? Are cargo ships vastly more unreliable and babysitting-needing than one would  have naively thought? It seems like one could have, say, a group of big cargo ships tended by a single crew similar to the crew of an entire present-day cargo ship. 

  • Lol... as an ex-officer and engineer on sea-going vessels, I recognize the challenges ahead for them. What they need are a couple of robots functionally equivalent to humans: able to crawl into tight spaces, walk on irregular surfaces like an engine room and can detect small fishing ships off the coast without sailing over them.

    Nice story, but I don't understand why the press publishes this rubbish...

  • Will need some survaillance or armed anti-pirate drones to protect them. Maybe a fleet of 200 to patrol.
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