There’s no doubt that the future of shipping is autonomous, shipbuilding companies are experimenting with self-driving, remotely-operated and crewless vessels – but what exactly will they look like?
The greater advantage to autonomous shipping is a crewless vessel. Eliminating people from a ship reduces many costs – like the basic: food, bathrooms, living quarters – but it also accounts for getting rid of other human necessities like stairs and doors. For many ships a lot of the weight sits in the stern, which means the bow then needs to balance out, usually in the form of water that is then being hauled around for no real purpose. Removing this excess weight can save 10-15 percent on fuel. It also means adding a lot of extra cargo space.
Eliminating a crew has many clear advantages, but it also means additional features that are necessary for a vessel that would function with a crew. For instance, if problems were to arise and there were no people to fix anything there would need to be a prescribed method or system to fix the issue. Other innovations are also in progress with autonomous shipping. Diesel fuel will be a thing of the past with the replacement of liquefied natural gas. It uses a simpler system that uses pressure to drive gas through a series of valves to the engine. No pumps or fuel injectors are needed.
These new ideas and innovations will be tested out on smaller vessels for short trips. As technology advances for autonomous shipping we will see more and more progress, moving next towards larger ships with dry cargo, as it is the least destructive in an accident, then complete autonomous shipping.