The British engineering company is testing a virtual-reality prototype in Norway that simulates the expansive views from the ship's bridge, traditionally where the crew would be. With this, captains could potentially navigate the seas in a modern-day ghost ship with no crew from dry land. Rolls-Royce Holdings, which makes 16% of its revenue from the marine sector, says drone ships could be deployed within a decade, and would be safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly to operate. However, unions could pose a hurdle as could minimum crew requirements.
Without a crew or systems—such as electricity, water, and sewage—to support them, the cargo ships would be lighter and burn less fuel, according to the company. Also, a cargo ship's crew accounts for 44% of operating expenses.
Of course, there are concerns about how well a ship can react in open waters without a captain or crew to steer it to safety. Last week, a Danish cargo ship lost 500 to 600 shipping containers, the single largest loss reported in history, due to the rough seas.