WHO NEEDS the autonomous ship? It is no doubt that the interest around the autonomous ship is growing. Almost every marine magazine publishes an article about this subject in their issues discussing the latest developments and opinions by qualified exponents of industry, authorities and shipowners. This, together with connectivity and digitalization will be certainly the driving developments of the next years in the maritime industry, introducing new concepts and criteria of ship design and operations. The risk for those who do not believe in this type of future is to become rapidly obsolete.
There is however and even for the most ahead of its time person, a reasonable doubt about this technology and its technological and social effects. The crash of the Uber self driving car killing a woman
has clearly demonstrated that, despite the most sophisticated technology, potential failures can occur with fatal consequences. You can imagine the similar consequences by the collision or grounding of an autonomous cargo ship. Looking at the economical aspects, the autonomous ship will require huge investments that individual shipowners cannot afford.
As an example, imagine the costs to build and operate a network of shore control centre active 24 hours a day and 365 days in a year, to be manned by a staff of highly qualified engineers in the different disciplines. This, together with the social impact, will limit the number of autonomous ships to those for local trades such as small ferries, etc. A real advantage of this technology will be the availability of a new suite of sensors that will improve the safety and efficiency of ship, in the direction of a new era of smart ships.