Rolls-Royce Is Developing Drone Cargo Ships To Save Money And Energy

Resembling a modern-day ghost ship, captains would navigate the crew-less ship from dry land.

Rolls-Royce Is Developing Drone Cargo Ships To Save Money And Energy
[Image: Rolls-Royce Holdings]

By now you’re likely familiar with drones, autonomous cars, and even self-driving offices, but Rolls-Royce Holdings has its eye on another type of unmanned craft: cargo ships.

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.

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.



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