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article imageAutonomous ships and smart containers to change shipping

By Karen Graham     Sep 5, 2017 in Technology
Earlier this year, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) began discussions that could eventually allow unmanned "ghost ships" to operate in international waters, leading to autonomous ships, smart containers and automated cargo handling.
Currently, international shipping law states that any ocean-going vessel must be properly crewed, meaning real, live people must be on board. This means that any autonomous ships can only sail along the coast of the country where the "ghost ship" is located.
But all this could change, and it may be coming sooner than many people believe. For example, a Norwegian agricultural fertilizer company is having an autonomous cargo ship, the YARA Birkeland built and is expected to launch the cargo ship in 2020.
The vessel will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions. KONGSBERG is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous ship operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.
The YARA Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship  with ze...
The YARA Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions.
Kongsberg
Additionally, several Japanese shipbuilders and shipping firms are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing remote-controlled cargo vessels that could be launched by 2025.
Mitsui OSK Lines, Nippon Yusen, and other firms plan to use the Internet of things (IoT), connecting a number of devices over the internet to gather data, such as weather conditions and shipping information, and plot the shortest, most efficient and safest routes.
“This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist,” Rolls-Royce’s vice-president of marine innovation, Oskar Levander, told a symposium in Amsterdam last year.
For those who may not know, the U.S. Navy launched an experimental self-driving warship, Sea Hunter, in April 2016. It's designed to hunt enemy submarines and is an advancement in robotic warfare as part of America’s strategy to counter Chinese and Russian naval investments.
Sea Hunter  an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Willamette Riv...
Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Willamette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon on April 7, 2016.
U.S. Navy/John F. Williams
In June, Rolls-Royce and global towage operator Svitzer successfully demonstrated the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel in Copenhagen harbor, Denmark. Using Svitzer's tugboat, the Hermod, the vessel’s captain, stationed at a remote base at Svitzer headquarters, berthed the vessel alongside the quay, undocked, turned 360°, and piloted it to the Svitzer Headquarters before docking again.
Autonomous container loading technology
Not only will there not be a need for crewed ships, but a vessel's time in port will be cut with autonomous container loading and offloading concepts. All these technological advances are to cut a ship's time in port, costs and the number of workers needed.
The whole concept of cargo flow is realized in CargoCat, a RoRo vessel which may be either a monohull or multihull ship and CargoKitten, a smaller vessel that can be used as a feeder vessel between smaller ports. While cargo ships usually travel at between 8-14 knots, a CargoCat can travel at 15-20 knots with reduced fuel consumption and a reduction in emissions
STRIFE: A line of cranes waits for cargo at the Port of Oakland  the only port on the U.S. West Coas...
STRIFE: A line of cranes waits for cargo at the Port of Oakland, the only port on the U.S. West Coast that failed to reopen this week following months of disagreement over a new contract for dockworkers.
Ingrid Taylar/Wikimedia Commons
Dagfinn Aksnes, owner, and CEO of Norway-based Seaway Innovations, which developed the technology and vessels alongside FluXXWorks, says the concepts have been modeled and proven through the use of simulations that visualize the cargo flows, automation, and multimodal integration.
Seaway says the automation technologies will make crane operations and other related costs in ports obsolete, and both ship owners and cargo owners will see increased revenues, said board member Roald Toskedal. Seaway Innovations was seeking investors and potential collaboration partners for CargoFlow.
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