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Icon representing US Coast Guard Bulletin: Cyber Adversaries Targeting Commercial Vessels
US Coast Guard Bulletin: Cyber Adversaries Targeting Commercial Vessels

June 21st 2019
Icon representing Would you pay $1m for a laptop full of malware?
Would you pay $1m for a laptop full of malware?

May 23rd 2019
Icon representing Singapore Opens Maritime Cybersecurity Operations Centre (MSOC)
Singapore Opens Maritime Cybersecurity Operations Centre (MSOC)

May 22nd 2019
 
 
 

Rolls Royce's Autonomous Ship Gives Us A Peek Into The Future Of Sea Transport

 
January 8th 2019
Rolls-Royce, the luxury auto and aviation propulsion system maker, is on the cutting edge of the autonomous marine vehicle market with their successful test of the first fully autonomous ferry.

The company, in conjunction with the state-owned ferry line of Finland called Finferries, took 80 dignitaries (but no crew) on a joyride around the archipelago south of the Finnish city of Turku on their 178-foot long ferry named Falco. The successful demonstration took place in early December. 

According to their press release:

The vessel detected objects utilising sensor fusion and artificial intelligence and conducted collision avoidance. It also demonstrated automatic berthing with a recently developed autonomous navigation system. All this was achieved without any human intervention from the crew.

The company's marine division already manufactures products for 30,000 commercial merchant, fishing, Coast Guard, and research vessels, including automation and control mechanisms, cranes, and deck machinery.

While their ongoing projects in ship design, operations, and management are set to change the safety and efficiency of sea travel, it's their ambitious new Ship Intelligence system that will likely have the largest payoff. This project is split into two parts – Intelligent Asset Management and Remote & Autonomous. More testing for this new autonomous technology is taking place in Norway and Finland following last month's VIP trial tour.

The goal of the new AI ship upgrades is to reduce human error, enhance safety, and improve the environmental footprint of large marine vessels. According to the company's publicity materials:

We believe remote and autonomous ships will be safer, more efficient and cheaper to build and operate. Our solutions will reduce human-machine interaction by automating tasks and processes, while keeping the human at the center of critical decision-making.

The company is also developing what they call "health management software" for their fleets:

This pioneering hardware and software solution aims to reduce a vessel’s asset ownership costs by monitoring analyzing equipment data. It alerts customers to imminent issues, enabling them to perform predictive maintenance and operate more safely and efficiently.

And while the goal of the project is to eventually hand over operation of ships to AI software, the company understands the need for humans to stay in the loop:

"Remote and autonomous ships will be safer, more efficient and cheaper to build and operate. Our solutions will reduce human-machine interaction by automating tasks and processes, while keeping the human at the center of critical decision-making."

Rolls-Royce lists the benefits of this new AI technology in their specs sheet, telling customers that they can expect the technology to help ameliorate the "growing maritime skills shortage," and make seafaring jobs more attractive to young people. However, they also expect that cargo vessels will no longer need systems such as heating and ventilation to support a crew.

It remains to be seen how important humans will be in the future of shipping. As it stands, it appears that these vessels won't need any human crew, just land controllers to monitor and intervene if problems arise. This would certainly allow more people with families to take jobs in shipping if large amounts of time spent at sea is no longer an issue.

And Rolls-Royce isn't the only player in the burgeoning autonomous ship market. Kongsberg, ASV, DARPA, NYK Line, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, HNA Group, and a few others are all developing their own autonomous technologies.

The most important features to look for in these AI systems will be rigorous cyber security mechanisms. The International Maritime Organization is mandating that shipowners protect their vessels from hackers under the International Safety Management (ISM) code as of January 1, 2021. The company that can nail these features the fastest will have the upper hand in this emerging market. 

Only 6 months ago, a survey commissioned by the telecommunications company Inmarsat revealed that only 35% of ship owners considered themselves up-to-date on new technologies and a mere 5% identified themselves as ahead of the curve. Autonomous tech will no doubt require a steep learning curve in the industry, with many smaller companies likely to be left in the dust if they can't compete.

Now that Rolls-Royce has unveiled the successful test of an autonomous marine vessel, expect to see other companies follow suit in 2019.

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