Remote-Controlled Maritime Giants: Massive Robot Ships Begin Their Journeys

Remote-Controlled Maritime Giants: Massive Robot Ships Begin Their Journeys
The Yara Birkeland carries fertiliser to a port for export. The plan is for it to work without any crew

Remote-Controlled Maritime Giants: Massive Robot Ships Begin Their Journeys

The future of crewless, autonomous ships is closer than many may think, as evidenced by the development of “robotic” vessels like Ocean Infinity’s “Armada.” This fleet of 23 ships, equipped with advanced technology such as cameras, microphones, radars, GPS, and satellite communications, is designed for seabed surveys and underwater infrastructure inspections. With only 16 people on board, compared to the 40 or 50 required for traditional ships, these crewless vessels are operated remotely from a high-tech operations center on land.

The advantages of autonomous shipping include smaller ship sizes, reduced fuel consumption, and a lower carbon footprint. In addition to Ocean Infinity’s Armada, other initiatives worldwide are exploring autonomy in maritime transport. Norway has an 80m electric container ship, Belgium and Japan have autonomous ferries, and China operates large autonomous container ships between coastal cities. These advancements aim to enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability in maritime transport.

While the development of autonomous systems for ships is progressing rapidly, challenges remain, particularly in interactions with other traffic, port operations, and unpredictable situations. Researchers and companies are actively working on overcoming these challenges to create a future of safer, more efficient, and sustainable maritime transport.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is addressing the regulatory aspects of autonomy at sea, with the hope of introducing voluntary codes defining best practices by 2028. The UK government is also considering legislation to accommodate the idea of remote masters for ships. As technology continues to advance, the maritime industry is on the cusp of a significant transformation that may reshape the nature of work and introduce new opportunities and challenges.


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