Rolls-Royce is developing crewless cargo ships that would be safer, cheaper and less polluting

By on February 26, 2014, 9:30 AM
drone, drones, rolls-royce, cargo ship, crewless ship

Moving cargo across the world’s oceans is a $375 billion industry. Around 90 percent of world trade takes place over water but it’s an extremely dangerous venture (Somali pirates, anyone?). Rolls-Royce, however, thinks they have a solution to the safety issue – automated container ships.

Marine accounts for about 16 percent of the company’s revenue so there’s plenty incentive to develop ships that can be operated remotely. And by removing the bridge structure where the crew would live as well as creature comforts like electricity, air conditioning, sewage and water, the company could fit more containers on a ship – a move that would cut costs and simultaneously boost revenue.

It seems like a win/win but naturally, there are plenty of skeptics. According to industry accounting and consulting firm Moore Stephens LLP, it costs roughly $3,299 to support a crew each day at sea. That’s around 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large container ship.

That’s just not enough money to justify what it would cost to make unmanned ships safe according to Tor Svensen, chief executive officer of maritime for DNV GL, a company that issues safety certificates to ships of this nature. What’s more, international conventions currently prohibit unmanned ships by way of minimum crew requirements.

The union that represents the majority of the world’s seafarers is against the idea, too. Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF’s seafarers’ section in London, said an unmanned vessel could never replace the eyes, ears and thought process of professional seafarers. Nevermind the fact that human error has caused most maritime accidents.

Rolls-Royce has set up a virtual reality prototype in Norway to simulate what it might be like aboard an unmanned ship. The company is the first to admit, however, that regulatory hurdles and industry skepticism will no doubt slow global adoption.




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1 person liked this | Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Ok maybe you could replace the pilots, how about the engine crew, the repair and maintenance guys, after all things had gotten out of place on sea, engines and mechanical parts need to be checked upon, etc etc etc.

1 person liked this | davislane1 davislane1 said:

The only ships that sail as if they were on air. To the next port, Jinkens!

misor misor said:

If it's "legal" to use unmanned drones to kill u.s. enemies, then it must be more than good to use unmanned cargo ships (for peaceful operations) too!

I like kibaruk's concern:

Ok maybe you could replace the pilots, how about the engine crew, the repair and maintenance guys, after all things had gotten out of place on sea, engines and mechanical parts need to be checked upon, etc etc etc.

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

Ok maybe you could replace the pilots, how about the engine crew, the repair and maintenance guys, after all things had gotten out of place on sea, engines and mechanical parts need to be checked upon, etc etc etc.

I would think that engines and whatnot are already monitored electronically so when something goes wrong the ship sends a signal to a homebase. From there they decide if its a critical issue or not. If it is critical they can send out a mechanic team via helicopter or something. They land, do their thing and then leave. So instead of having a crew on every single ship sitting around waiting for something to go wrong you have just a few teams who are on call and can respond to serious issues when necessary. Perhaps a cheaper way to go.

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

"The union that represents the majority of the world's seafarers is against the idea, too."

The unions will slow global adoption if they can.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I would think that engines and whatnot are already monitored electronically so when something goes wrong the ship sends a signal to a homebase. From there they decide if its a critical issue or not. If it is critical they can send out a mechanic team via helicopter or something. They land, do their thing and then leave. So instead of having a crew on every single ship sitting around waiting for something to go wrong you have just a few teams who are on call and can respond to serious issues when necessary. Perhaps a cheaper way to go.

So you would put a crew of unknown mechanics to your unmaned ship? Or would you be having them flown half world away? Or would you have a group of mechanics in every port? How would you send the crew to the middle of the ocean"S"? How would you monetize the time it takes to have it all running again?

BTW: If it were all "already monitored ellectronically" why would the companies waste money on a lot of crew just for that? You do know they get a chief engine mechanics there with a lot of people under his charge?

1 person liked this | Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

I would think that engines and whatnot are already monitored electronically so when something goes wrong the ship sends a signal to a homebase. From there they decide if its a critical issue or not. If it is critical they can send out a mechanic team via helicopter or something. They land, do their thing and then leave. So instead of having a crew on every single ship sitting around waiting for something to go wrong you have just a few teams who are on call and can respond to serious issues when necessary. Perhaps a cheaper way to go.

So you would put a crew of unknown mechanics to your unmaned ship? Or would you be having them flown half world away? Or would you have a group of mechanics in every port? How would you send the crew to the middle of the ocean"S"? How would you monetize the time it takes to have it all running again?

BTW: If it were all "already monitored ellectronically" why would the companies waste money on a lot of crew just for that? You do know they get a chief engine mechanics there with a lot of people under his charge?

I would hope they are electronically monitored already much in the same way you car will you tell when something is wrong. In modern cars you can plug into the ECU and it will give you a code telling you exactly where the problem is many times. Surely a modern ship can self diagnose itself in the same way.

I assume that most ships make it from port to port without breaking down in between. Every now and then things go wrong. It seems more cost effective to me to have a few teams who can respond to emergencies via boat or heli than to have a team on every single ship sitting on their asses while they get paid because things more often than not are fine. As far as "unknown" mechanics go I would also assume that their is a standard of training that mechanics meet before they get hired just like in every other industry.

But really I'm just talking out my ass because I have no connection or experience with the cargo ship industry so maybe they hire whoever applies and love to blow through money and not follow any sort of reason ¯\_(?)_/¯

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Yes... it's exactly how you picture it they just hire whoever gets to their doors and don't care at all for the costs after all that's what the clients pay them for, to blow through money.

Back to the logic of the problem, big transnational companies don't ship from mexico to US (aka 'murica), they ship from china to everywhere, you would have to literally get a team of people half world away to check on it, it's unfeasable.

Also the engineering crews are there to monitor and attend to the captains schedule, charts and navigation plans, based on conditions. The engineering chief reports back to the captain the engine stress and whatnot in case they need to change conditions.

On another note "nowaday" cars, ships are not 2015 models, most are old tens of years because they are really expensive.

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

Yes... it's exactly how you picture it they just hire whoever gets to their doors and don't care at all for the costs after all that's what the clients pay them for, to blow through money.

Back to the logic of the problem, big transnational companies don't ship from mexico to US (aka 'murica), they ship from china to everywhere, you would have to literally get a team of people half world away to check on it, it's unfeasable.

How often does an airplane fall out the sky because the engine's stop working? It never happens because they have more than one engine and they check them before each flight. I don't think breakdowns would be a problem, but like Ranger12, I know about as much about transnational shipping as I do about heart surgery.

Every time some new idea or technology comes along we always try to blow holes in the logic of why it can't work based on no actual experience in the industry. Our cars are becoming more and more able to drive themselves, I don't think shipping containers would be much harder. I'd bet they're already on autopilot the whole way. They could have a crew get it running, hop on a boat and go back to shore and have another crew pick it up on the other side and dock the thing. That doesn't just sound possible, it sounds very easy.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Comparing an airplane to a ship's time travel is like comparing a snail with a motorcycle. The airplane won't be flying for more than a day. The ship is overseas for month(s).

And yes, plains have fallen out of the skies. They are under constant maintainance and checkups.

wastedkill said:

YES Lets get this crewless cargo ships so we can rob them before they even notice anything and no one can try to stop us from taking stuff from these cargo ships way too got rolls-royce always helping thief's.

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

Yes... it's exactly how you picture it they just hire whoever gets to their doors and don't care at all for the costs after all that's what the clients pay them for, to blow through money.

Back to the logic of the problem, big transnational companies don't ship from mexico to US (aka 'murica), they ship from china to everywhere, you would have to literally get a team of people half world away to check on it, it's unfeasable.

Also the engineering crews are there to monitor and attend to the captains schedule, charts and navigation plans, based on conditions. The engineering chief reports back to the captain the engine stress and whatnot in case they need to change conditions.

On another note "nowaday" cars, ships are not 2015 models, most are old tens of years because they are really expensive.

Sorry, I guess I should have made it clearer that the last paragraph was sarcasm. While the engineering crew may certainly help out the captain the point of these ships is their is no captain onboard so that point is irrelevant.

Also, you wouldn't station crews just in China. You would would place crews near major ports or major shipping lanes so there is always a crew relatively close.

And finally, speaking of irrelevant points, we're talking about Rolls Royce building NEW ships so why would you bring up old cars/ships? They have no bearing on this discussion. As a side not ECU's are not a 2015 thing. They have been around for awhile.

1 person liked this | davislane1 davislane1 said:

It's always fun when a billion dollar corporation pitches an idea that gets public coverage and everyone in the comments section brings up problems nobody in upper management or logistics ever thought of. Rolls-Royce is paying the wrong people.

Sarcasm aside, it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the unions in coming years. That's the real hurdle they have to figure out how to navigate.

2 people like this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Are they contemplating arming these things? You know, so they could fend off Somali pirates?

You realize of course, that when everything requiring human labor is eliminated, our race will simply implode into the internet.

We'll have to rename the species! My vote goes for, "Trollus Omnipresentii"....

1 person liked this | davislane1 davislane1 said:

Are they contemplating arming these things? You know, so they could fend off Somali pirates?

I'm sure international laws will hinder proper weaponization. But I'm also sure there's a loophole somewhere allowing for the electrification of the vessel. Nothing says "keep off" like a high-voltage security blanket.

Alternatively, they could just coat the ships with a generous amount of bacon grease and attach an automated pig cannon.

3 people like this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I'm sure international laws will hinder proper weaponization. But I'm also sure there's a loophole somewhere allowing for the electrification of the vessel. Nothing says "keep off" like a high-voltage security blanket.

Alternatively, they could just coat the ships with a generous amount of bacon grease and attach an automated pig cannon.

Really! They could send an entire fleet of them to the coast of Somalia!.

Armed with pig cannons blazing, (you need the blazing to make bacon out of them), in one fell swoop we could, cure hunger, give the entire population coronary artery disease, and uphold the ideals of The Miss America Pageant.

The positive propaganda we could generate from this would last for decades.

And BTW, don't forget to recruit Bill Gates to ride on the bow of the lead ship, bullhorn in hand, announcing his intention to end world hunger....

Chazz said:

I assume that most ships make it from port to port without breaking down in between. Every now and then things go wrong. It seems more cost effective to me to have a few teams who can respond to emergencies via boat or heli than to have a team on every single ship sitting on their asses while they get paid because things more often than not are fine. As far as "unknown" mechanics go I would also assume that their is a standard of training that mechanics meet before they get hired just like in every other industry.

While I agree with you, that this is very feasible, and I'd be very interested in more info as it's released. I have to add a counter-point. These ships that are fine "more often than not". Is it because these ships are just amazingly built. Or does it have something to do with the way it's currently being maintained(ie. with constant staff)?

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

While I agree with you, that this is very feasible, and I'd be very interested in more info as it's released. I have to add a counter-point. These ships that are fine "more often than not". Is it because these ships are just amazingly built. Or does it have something to do with the way it's currently being maintained(ie. with constant staff)?

Good question, idk. I would think you could do preventive maintenance in port between trips but perhaps it has to be a 24/7 kind of deal

Guest said:

Crew costs are much less then 44%. That would leave about $4400 dollars a day for fuel. At more then $60 a barrel for heavy fuel oil you have about 70 barrels a day to run a 70 megawatt engine. That's enough for ur DGs but not the engine. Plus interest charges on ship loans, port fees. Pilots, insurance, the whole argument is silly.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I won't even try anymore, I've been in ships but this guy must be a genious because no one must have thought before what he is thinking, you should send your CV to Rolls Royce.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Crew costs are much less then 44%. That would leave about $4400 dollars a day for fuel. At more then $60 a barrel for heavy fuel oil you have about 70 barrels a day to run a 70 megawatt engine. That's enough for ur DGs but not the engine. Plus interest charges on ship loans, port fees. Pilots, insurance, the whole argument is silly.
CEOs couldn't be bothered with formulating a coherent press release. Better to simply let their a**es do the talking.....

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

"The union that represents the majority of the world's seafarers is against the idea, too."
And why wouldn't/ shouldn't, they be? If this came to fruition, all that would come out of it would be, some CEO lining his pockets with their paychecks.

Some people enjoy, or have to, work hard for a living.

We can't all sit around a code up today's excuse for a "social networking crapplication". Where the hell would the food come from?

This is just Rolls Royce trying to get noticed again. After all, you can't sell as many of them half million dollar cars as you can Chevys. Then too, the aviation industry has moved on from Spitfires, and their, "Merlin", engines.......

davislane1 davislane1 said:

This is just Rolls Royce trying to get noticed again. After all, you can't sell as many of them half million dollar cars as you can Chevys. Then too, the aviation industry has moved on from Spitfires, and their, "Merlin", engines.......

That's BMW's problem. If I recall correctly, Rolls-Royce Holdings only owns some of the trademarks of Rolls-Royce Motorcars. Considering their annual net income (in the billions) and their employee base (40,000+), I'd say its doubtful this is just a marketing ploy.

Guest said:

"roughly $3,299 to support a crew each day at sea. That's around 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large container ship."

I find that number hard to believe. How much fuel is needed per day?

[link]

This is in tons per day! 200-250 tons per day is a reasonable range. ~350 pounds per barrel, 2000 pounds per ton (U.S. tons, not tonnes or metric tons) = 1142-1421 Barrels per day. One barrel today is trading for ~$100. That's $114,200 to $142,100 per day in just fuel.

A crew is a fraction of that cost, in the range of 3%, not 44%.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

That's BMW's problem. If I recall correctly, Rolls-Royce Holdings only owns some of the trademarks of Rolls-Royce Motorcars. Considering their annual net income (in the billions) and their employee base (40,000+), I'd say its doubtful this is just a marketing ploy.
In any event, you "create jobs" ,( which you can crow about), manufacturing these pilot-less ships, while you eliminate jobs working them. Then you get a fat bonus for doing exactly that.

This is really same s***, different day and venue, as when some slick developer decides it's time for your town to have a mall. "It creates jobs", they bellow. "We're doing you a big favor here"!

And in the end, the construction jobs your shiny new mall creates, are temporary, and the mall is a "wealth" of minimum wage jobs, where suburbanites can store their latch key gay progeny, until the commuter train rolls in from the big city. (Did you like how I worked "Rolls", into that rant)?

In the end, everybody's real estate taxes go sky high, ecause after all , look at all the traffic the new mall brings into town, and the developer gets fat, and wanders off to do the next unsuspecting township a "big favor".

BTW, BMW has its other problems to contend with. It seems the German people are a bit upset about BMW brown nosing the US, by designing our bobsleds.

And trust me, you don't want to rile up the Germans, they can be ever, ever, so ethnocentric.....:eek:

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

And trust me, you don't want to rile up the Germans, they can be ever, ever, so ethnocentric.....:eek:

Keep a weather eye out captain !

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I never knew Sisyphus was Polish......

1 person liked this | dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

I never knew Sisyphus was Polish......

Only on his mothers side. These days I believe he rolls like this

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Only on his mothers side.
So now the boulder gets to ride in a square wheeled pickup truck? What a slacker! I hope to all the gods, he has the good taste to at least challenge himself, by backing the rig up the hill.

Boy oh boy, wait til his dad gets wind of this....

1 person liked this | misor misor said:

...And BTW, don't forget to recruit Bill Gates to ride on the bow of the lead ship, bullhorn in hand, announcing his intention to end world hunger....

and he will vow that he did not have a relationship with that Somali woman!

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

and he will vow that he did not have a relationship with that Somali woman!
Nah man, he was just hiding her from pirates under his desk....

(Boy did I tank the syntax on that little gem).

I should have read, "Her put her under his desk, to hide her from the pirates in the room".

(Who are sort of like, "the elephant in the room", but the elephant holds the sword in its trunk, and says, "ARGH"...., way louder).

MilwaukeeMike said:

Comparing an airplane to a ship's time travel is like comparing a snail with a motorcycle. The airplane won't be flying for more than a day. The ship is overseas for month(s).

And yes, plains have fallen out of the skies. They are under constant maintainance and checkups.

I wasn't comparing travel times at all, I was using airplanes as an example of something that doesn't just breakdown because they make sure it doesn't.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I wasn't comparing travel times at all, I was using airplanes as an example of something that doesn't just breakdown because they make sure it doesn't.

But it takes hours to get from point A to point B so they have regular checks, if the maintainance for airplanes would be once every couple of months you could compare it to unmaned ships.

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