SELF DRIVING SHIPS
Self driving cars are already on the roads. In a few years, you’ll own one. We’re scrambling to get the laws and insurance rules done.
What about ships?
Remember the Costa Concordia?
It actually hit a rock?
Ships don’t GO that fast. And rocks? They don’t go at all.
Would a computerized pilot get lost in somebody’s baby blue eyes? Would it cruise dangerously close to shore to show off?
MISTER ScienceAintSoBad doesn’t think so.
Why can’t we at least do what several car models already do – the ones that “grab the wheel” to save you from killing yourself? If it works for cars at 65 mph, it should work for ships at 19 mph.
You would think.
Ship owners would like to go further. They really like the idea of self piloted “ghost” ships.
Without a crew, ships would be smaller and simpler and more fuel efficient. And what’s a ship worth to pirates if there’s no crew? Would you pay a big ransom for a scow full of tires?
Oskar Levander, VP of Innovation, Marine Engineering, and Technology at Rolls Royce, says we’re ready to do this. Rolls Royce has a simulated system to show off to potential customers; the company (or at least Levander) sees this as inevitable.
Here’s the thing.
It’s a great idea. But ships don’t get smashed against rocks by foolish captains very often.
The big risks are bad weather and propulsion systems that explode, catch fire, or fail, leaving the vessel to founder in the waves. A ship without power is in extreme danger in the middle of the ocean. Robots still aren’t as fast and flexible and reliable as a human in an emergency.
Would an automated pilot be able to respond properly to an oncoming rogue wave? Would it know what to do if the windows got blown out on the side of the ship?
MISTER Science AintSoBad likes techno stuff. It should, in principle, be possible to replace the crew with well designed, redundant systems but labor unions and regulators will be hard to convince.
Maybe that’s a good thing.