Rolls-Royce, Google Join Forces on Making Autonomous Ships a Reality

Rolls-Royce has inked a deal with Google to develop further its intelligent awareness systems which are believed to make existing vessels safer and are essential for autonomous ships to become a reality.

The agreement, said to be the first of its kind in the marine sector, was signed at the Google Cloud Summit in Sweden on October 3. It allows Rolls-Royce to use Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Engine to further train the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) based object classification system for detecting, identifying and tracking the objects a vessel can encounter at sea.

“While intelligent awareness systems will help to facilitate an autonomous future, they can benefit maritime businesses right now making vessels and their crews safer and more efficient. By working with Google Cloud we can make these systems better faster, saving lives,” Karno Tenovuo, Rolls-Royce, SVP Ship Intelligence, commented.

As disclosed, Rolls-Royce will use Google Cloud’s software to create machine learning models which can interpret large and diverse marine data sets created by Rolls-Royce. Data will be prepared to train models, ensuring that it is relevant and in sufficient quantity to create statistical significance. As part of the machine learning process, the models’ predictions are evaluated in practical marine applications, allowing the models to be further refined.

By accessing this software through the Cloud, the models can be developed from anywhere in the world and are immediately accessible globally allowing thousands of users. Models can, therefore, be trained on large quantities (terabytes) of data. This will be essential as autonomous ships become commonplace.

In the longer term, Rolls-Royce and Google intend to undertake joint research on unsupervised and multimodal learning. The two companies will also test whether speech recognition and synthesis are viable solutions for human-machine interfaces in marine applications. They will also work on optimizing the performance of local neural network computing on board ships using open source machine intelligence software libraries such as Google’s TensorFlow.

Intelligent awareness systems are expected to make vessels safer, easier and more efficient to operate by providing crew with an enhanced understanding of their vessel’s surroundings. This will be achieved by fusing data from a range of sensors with information from existing ship systems, such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) and radar. Data from other sources, including global databases, will also have a role, Rolls-Royce said.

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