back to article British firm to build world's first offshore automated ship

In January, the British firm Automated Ships and its Norwegian partners Kongsberg Maritime will begin work on the first offshore vessel that can be run with no captain, crew, or engineers. The ship, named the Hrönn, is being designed as an offshore support vessel capable of delivering cargo to remote locations, launching and …

  1. Lusty

    There's another issue

    The IRPCS aka "colregs" require certain things such as a constant lookout. Robots almost certainly cannot legally meet this requirement.

    Finally, there's the little issue of automated navigation not being perfect. GPS is very fallible, especially so at sea, even more so when a navy is near. The British Navy blocks GPS all the time in training exercises.

    Autonomous shipping makes a lot of sense and I'm sure we'll see it happen in our lifetimes, but there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, which the marketing department at the automated shipping companies always ignore.

    Also, the dozen meatbags on a container ship cost peanuts for a company that owns a fleet of container ships. I'd imagine the yearly wage of the whole crew is about the same as one propellor!

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: There's another issue

      Crew is cheap. The fuel cost for a container ship is about $5 million dollars for a single ocean crossing at the usual 27 knots. Even in slow steaming mode (18 knots) it is $2.5 million. The few weeks salary for crew for that trip is indeed peanuts.

      Also, Maersk's triple E class is 400 metres long and carries over 18 thousand 20 foot containers. Nobody is going to trust that kind of value to a computer. As an aside, the computer program for cargo management is specific to the ship and is quite complicated, as well as indispensable.

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: There's another issue

      "here are a lot of hurdles to overcome, which the marketing department at the automated shipping companies always ignore"

      I think these guys might be the forefathers of the Marketing Department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation...

    3. Pen-y-gors

      Re: There's another issue

      Ah, but it's not the piddling wages paid to the assorted Fillipino and Liberian citizens on board, think of the wasted space for cabins, galleys, toilets, food storage, recreation areas etc. Get rid of that and you can squeeze on another half-dozen containers!

      But in general, what could possibly etc...

      1. Charles 9

        Re: There's another issue

        Well, imagine pirates trying to hijack such a vessel, only to learn there's no way to manually control it...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also, the dozen meatbags on a container ship cost peanuts for a company that owns a fleet of container ships.

    The other thing is that with the progressive increase in ship sizes, the crew cost is going down per container, so the marginal benefit of automation is falling.

    Knowing precisely nothing about the matter, I can't help wondering if automation of the cargo logistics and load/unload would be a better target for robotics and systems.

    1. Ole Juul

      container stowage logistics

      "I can't help wondering if automation of the cargo logistics and load/unload would be a better target for robotics and systems."

      I'm no expert either, but follow the shipping news because it just seems so important to our modern commercial world. Here is an article on Marine Insight you will like: How to Plan Cargo Containers Stowage on Container Ship

      Edit: Actually another article about container ship design is fascinating. Here's a quote:

      This complicity of container ship design is therefore solved by means of special computer programs specially designed to generate container loading plans for a particular loading case, which keeps in mind, the series of ports a vessel needs to call, and also the strength and stability aspects of the ship.

      1. Jim Mitchell

        Re: container stowage logistics

        @ Ole Juul

        "complicity" doesn't mean what they think it means.


        the state of being an accomplice; partnership or involvement in wrongdoing:

        complicity in a crime.

  3. Alister

    Useless Fact of the day...

    I had to look it up, as I thought maybe Hrönn meant Heron, but no, it means wave, apparently.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Kubla Cant

      Re: Useless Fact of the day...

      My immediate thought when I read the name was of the Great Collapsing Hrung Disaster of Gal./Sid./Year 03758.

  4. GlenP Silver badge

    I can't see this working for large container ships, I think the of use for rig and wind farm support vessels is probably more likely.

    As to the lookout, it can't be much worse than the existing support vessels out of Brightlingsea. 30+ knots in thick mist in a congested waterway.

  5. hammarbtyp

    Some day, but probably not yet

    I think we are a long way from truly automated vessels, but certainly more semi-automation is possible where a ship can be run for a long time with the minimum of human oversight.

    What we are more likely to see in the short term is convoy automation where you get one master ship manned with engineers, command staff etc and a number of fully automated vessels taking the lead from that ship.

    I know Rolls Royce are doing a lot of concept work. However I think the biggest issue will be inherent conservatism of the marine industry, some who still think that the move from Wind to steam was a bit hasty

  6. Known Hero

    The advantages of unmanned ships are manifold

    intentional pun ?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oil rig supply

    They say one of the uses of this is to oil rig supply. Now the question is, just who in their right mind is going to allow one if these to try and get close enough to an oil rig to transfer cargo? Then add to that where do the cargo handlers on the supply vessel suddenly appear from because I very much doubt that those running the rig would supply them.

  8. Millwright

    Another thing about oil rigs

    My nephew is a trainee engineer on the North Sea rig supply boats. They have /lots/ of accommodation space as they are rescue craft as well as delivery ships: and I don't see that function being automated.

  9. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "If an automated ship breaks down..."

    They'll send out the automated tug to retrieve it...

    ... mine's the one with a copy of Jack London's "Sea-Wolf" in the pocket. BTW, the first automated ship should be called "Ghost".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The first automated ship should be called

      Robbie McRoboface

      1. Kubla Cant

        Re: The first automated ship should be called

        Mary Celeste

  10. Dylan Byford

    This is nothing - I'm looking forward to automated sailing ships

    You just need some wind-speed, directional and tilt sensors plugged into your feedback systems, get some automated windlasses and small motors for rope hauling etc. Of course, it would need to be exquisitely calibrated but not beyond a top-end AI surely?

  11. M7S


    Bring it on

    1. defiler

      Re: Plunder

      My thought precisely.


      1. M7S

        Re: Plunder

        Which reminds me, if a pirate gives someone a ring.... it a booty call?

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Plunder if there's no way to manually control it?

  12. Tikimon

    Putting a new face on smuggling!

    This could add some goo Plausible Deniability in smuggling (contraband or people) cases. Honest Guv, them AKMS rifles weren't aboard when she left port!

  13. Gene Cash Silver badge

    local pilots ... need to be trained in how to run an automated ship

    Why? Automated ships can have the exact same set of controls as a "normal" ship, except perhaps for an added switch saying "Automation: ON/OFF"

  14. Jeffrey Nonken

    That was supposed to be a cautionary tale, not a handbook!

  15. herman Silver badge

    You mean manyfold my dear editor.

  16. Old one


    And it took the US from Jan 1958 to July 1969 to go from earth bound to moon landing, so how bad does the supply ship industry want this automation? There are robots that can replace engineers & other crew. If you must have a human as harbour pilot then it should not be hard to have a manual input station that then converts to the robotic controls. Within a year we will see the success or failure of motor racing totally driver-less vehicles & the heavy truck transport industry is currently running numerous autonomous truck tests. Guidance for ship need not be solely GPS based but possible resurgence of the Loran-C radio system or similar. Integrated camera systems that sense position through photographic, infrared, and radar in many cases would be better than the capabilities of any human crew. The quandary is not that of what are robotic's limits but is man's capability to to be needed? Intuition?

    1. Charles 9

      Re: motovation

      The catch being that there isn't a whole lot of potential chaos factors in space. Same with aviation. Once aloft, airplanes don't have so many chaos factors to consider: turbulence and rogue aircraft, maybe, but not much else. Once you get to sea/ground level, the chaos factors increase considerably: terrestrial and aquatic life, unpredictable motions and waves (thus why we have rogue waves), not to mention the human factor. Put it this way: navigating at sea involves a certain amount of necessary complexity to account for uncertainties at sea such as currents and drift.

      PS. And yes, intuition (or rather, subconscious or reflexive knowledge) does play a factor in various mental functions regarding detection and avoidance. These kinds of things we can't teach to AIs because we don't ourselves know how we do it.

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