The first remote-controlled ferry demonstrator could hit the water within four to five years thanks to a new wave of research into operational efficiency based on ship intelligence solutions, according to Oskar Levander, Vice President for innovation, engineering & technology at Rolls-Royce Marine in Finland.
Levander suggests that the maritime industry is at the dawn of an era in which ship intelligence is one of the main technology trends – driving advances such as increased automation, smart controls, robotics, optimisation/decision support tools, equipment/system health management and predictive maintenance schemes.
Ship intelligence will also drive the development of remote control and autonomous solutions, according to Levander.
“Today there is a lot of R&D focus on unmanned airplanes and driverless land-based vehicles and society is becoming more prepared to accept these game-changing solutions. It is only a question of time as to when shipping will follow the same path,” Levander says.
The first unmanned commercial ships are likely to be locally operated vessels since single flag states can permit their operation before international regulations are in place.
In Levander’s view, ferries would be a prime candidate for early adoption because they operate within a confined area and in addition ‘there is a clear desire to address the crew cost,’ adding that studies indicate most essential technology building blocks are already in place, but practical marine solutions will still require some development efforts.