Race to the future

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

27 July 2017


###Interest in autonomous ships is undoubtedly growing and this week ABS announced it had joined the Unmanned Cargo Ship Development Alliance project in China. The project brings together several Chinese institutions along with Rolls-Royce and Wartsila with the aim of advancing autonomous shipping. The concept ship design which is the ultimate goal of the project is planned to be ready in a little over four years from now. The Chinese project is one of a number that are now running with similar aims. No doubt there will very likely be something concrete to show in the four-year time span and in all likelihood well before that since a demonstration of a remotely operated tug has already been achieved. There is however a very big difference between what is possible and what is practical. The organisations involved in the various projects all have a vested interest in their success and need to demonstrate that they are at the cutting edge of technology, but while science and technicians can create the autonomous ship, it will be for commercial companies and regulators to determine its future. No doubt some pioneering operator can be found to join the projects but waiting for regulators to play catch up may well be the fly in the ointment. Clearly China, is joining Norway and Finland in allowing development to take place in their waters but that does not mean that other countries will be so enthusiastic to do so. The IMO has taken the issue on board but as is well known things can move very slowly there and it would be a brave man that would gamble on regulation being in place that would allow autonomous ships to operate internationally much before ten or fifteen years into the future. The race to the future looks as if it will be more of a marathon than the sprint that some are hoping for. Image courtesy: Rolls-Royce