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

By Shawn Knight · 33 replies
Feb 26, 2014
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  1. 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...

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  2. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    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.
    misor likes this.
  3. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,736   +3,757

    The only ships that sail as if they were on air. To the next port, Jinkens!
    Ranger12 likes this.
  4. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,283   +242

    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:
  5. Ranger12

    Ranger12 TS Evangelist Posts: 621   +122

    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.
  6. Ranger12

    Ranger12 TS Evangelist Posts: 621   +122

    "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.
  7. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    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?
  8. Ranger12

    Ranger12 TS Evangelist Posts: 621   +122

    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 *** 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 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    MilwaukeeMike likes this.
  9. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    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.
  10. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,890   +1,223

    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.
    misor likes this.
  11. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    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.
  12. wastedkill

    wastedkill TS Evangelist Posts: 1,423   +350

    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.
  13. Ranger12

    Ranger12 TS Evangelist Posts: 621   +122

    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.
  14. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,736   +3,757

    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.
    MilwaukeeMike likes this.
  15. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,992   +2,528

    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"....:)
    ThanosPAS and Wendig0 like this.
  16. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,736   +3,757

    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.
    cartera likes this.
  17. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,992   +2,528

    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....
    misor, Wendig0 and cartera like this.
  18. Chazz

    Chazz TS Evangelist Posts: 679   +75

    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)?
  19. Ranger12

    Ranger12 TS Evangelist Posts: 621   +122

    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
  20. 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.
  21. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,286   +902

    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.
  22. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,992   +2,528

    CEOs couldn't be bothered with formulating a coherent press release. Better to simply let their a**es do the talking.....
  23. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,992   +2,528

    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.......
  24. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,736   +3,757

    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.

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