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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.

[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.

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