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R-R unveils shore control centre project for autonomous ships

R-R unveils shore control centre project for autonomous ships
Rolls-Royce has outlined its vision of a land-based control centre for unmanned ships, including the use of shipboard drones, in a video released today.

The company is currently in the final stages of a joint research project and envisages building a project demonstrator “before the end of the decade”. Parners in the project are Finnish non-profit R&D firm VTT and University of Tampere research centre TAUCHI (Tampere Unit for Computer Human Interaction).

In R-R’s projection, Finnish control-centre staff would plot a course for autonomous vessels - carrying remotely-piloted drones for on-board problem solving, including inspections and predictive maintenance - before a “hand-over” to regional remote operators. The technology would enable a small crew of less than 15 to monitor and control an entire fleet, it predicts.

The research project took pointers from other industries such as aviation, where automation is commonplace, and space exploration, where even manned craft are entirely remotely-operated, says R-R.

“The autonomous ship does not mean removing human beings entirely from the picture, as is sometimes stated,” comments Eija Kaasinen, principal scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. “Unmanned ships need to be monitored and controlled and this will require entirely new kinds of work roles, tasks, tools and environments."

While the technology is futuristic-seeming to many, Lloyd’s Register marketing manager for Business Development & Innovation Luis Benito told Seatrade at a recent seminar that automation on many vessels is already extensive enough to allow for remote operation, adding that the main barriers would be regulatory, rather than technological.

Rolls-Royce’s video is available here.