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Japan To Launch Self-Navigating Cargo Ships 'By 2025' (bbc.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Japanese shipping companies are working with shipbuilders to develop self-piloting cargo ships. The "smart ships" will use artificial intelligence to plot the safest, shortest, most fuel-efficient routes, and could be in service by 2025. The AI will also be used to predict malfunctions and other problems, which could help reduce the number of maritime incidents. The companies plan to build about 250 self-navigating ships. Shipping firms Mitsui OSK Lines and Nippon Yusen are working with shipbuilders including Japan Marine United to share both costs and expertise, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. The first ships will retain a small crew to oversee certain operations, but there are plans to develop completely autonomous vessels in the future.
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Japan To Launch Self-Navigating Cargo Ships 'By 2025'

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  • now they'll NEVER get off that island
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 09, 2017 @08:17PM (#54589093)

    The AI will also be used to predict malfunctions

    "Just a moment... Just a moment... I've just picked up a fault in the AE-35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure within 72 hours."

    • by slickwillie ( 34689 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @09:03PM (#54589261)
      Open the pod bay doors HAR.
    • by beckett ( 27524 )
      big deal - i already know i'll be sick next friday for work.
    • Yeah, and I love how those futuristic designs always seem to magically solve all problems with some future key technology that is just about to be ready, so do not worry about anything, dear investors.

      Well, if they have a fantastic AI that can “predict malfunctions and other problems”, why don’t they commercialise it right now, for use in crewed ships, to “help reduce the number of maritime incidents” right now? And if they don’t have it right now, why don’t they st

      • Because tech is always going to get better and better! I had a C64 when I was a kid, and look at computers NOW! Progress is inevitable! Tech will get better and better and...oh wait, you mean Moore's Law is dead and Intels newer processors aren't any better than their last generation? Ooops.
      • They haven't collected enough data to feed the AI yet for all potential malfunctions. And you need a beowulf cluster of raspberry pi to run it.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @08:17PM (#54589101)
    I wonder how AI will handle pirates. Perhaps this is the "certain operations" why they retain a minimal crew?
    • Less crew the worse it will be for pirates. Especially if the ship itself is armed with weapon systems that operate autonomously or semi autonomously with remote authorization. Pretty sure an armed cargo ship is no match for even a squadron of boats trying to take it over (a manned crew would perform even worse against that btw). Also, just because it is unmanned or lightly manned doesn't mean there can't be a team monitoring the ships remotely in case backup systems need to be activated.

      • Re: Pirates (Score:5, Informative)

        by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @09:14PM (#54589311)

        Per maritime law if you put one fixed mount gun of any caliber larger than x it is a naval vessel and can be I pounded and siezed by any port it enters.

        Putting armed men on a ship also sets it at the same restriction.

        Armed men now deboard outside of port limits. Just for that. Yes it is as annoying as it sounds. They transfer around until they return to a port where they can get out.

        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          So don't fix it, use contractors who bring their own security. No changes to the ship.
          Pirates try to enter from the side, they are stopped, ship keeps its speed up.
          No need to wait around for some navy. Use the private sector and the cargo is safe.
        • by Zemran ( 3101 )
          That would be amusing for all naval ships globally when they enter port. In the real world, you can enter port, declare your arms and if you wish to dock the customs will either take control or lock your weapons. Most ships now have arms lockers for this purpose which customs can lock and you can leave from a different port where their customs can unlock your arms. If you do not have an arms locker or if it is not good enough to satisfy customs that it is secure they are likely to take your arms into the
    • I wonder how AI will handle pirates. Perhaps this is the "certain operations" why they retain a minimal crew?

      Pirates usually target the crew, and hold the crew as hostage. If there is no crew, the bridge needs no windows or ventilation, so the pirates can't take over the ship unless they bring a welding torch to cut their way in. It is hard to buy acetylene in Somalia.

      • It is hard to buy acetylene in Somalia.

        Cutting torches can be found for a number of different fuels like gasoline and propane. I'd think the limiting factor would be more in the access to bottled oxygen. This isn't going to be precision work by any means so compressed air and whatever they use to fuel their boats should be sufficient.

        It's been a while since I've seen anyone use a torch so I don't recall exactly what one needs to make it work. I've heard of people making "water torches" that electrolyze water and burn the resulting oxygen-hydr

        • Pirates usually have shitty boats, because if they get their hands on a nice boat then it's cost-effective to wake up some military assets and go blow it up. They don't really have the equipment to steal a bunch of fuel. Having stolen a lot of anything, you become a low-moving, cargo-hauling target. This is why they focus on ransoms. They only have to nab a few people, which are relatively compact and lightweight compared to shipping containers or thousands of gallons of bunker fuel, which is worth approxim

          • thousands of gallons of bunker fuel, which is worth approximately fuck-all per gallon

            I see your point but I'm not convinced it's valid. Not many ships use bunker fuel any more out of concerns of safety (it can be a fire hazard since it's so thick and sticky), emissions (it contains a lot of sulfur), and economy (marine diesel is often not much more in cost but more energy dense by volume and weight). Bunker fuel is still valuable as heating and cooking fuel, or perhaps if sold as a high grade crude oil. Marine diesel can in fact be used in a pickup truck since it's not much different tha

    • It won’t need to. After all, what are the pirates going to do, once they are on the deck of an automated ship? Start yelling at the main computer angry threats of rebooting it unless it changes course?

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Use sound and water as no crew to worry about? The problem is if its hacked and shut down at sea or systems get activated in port.
        Automated pirate removal systems would need to be very safe to shut down. Too safe and the pirates can shut the systems down too.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The costs are in a caption, crew, medical, cooks, shifts of crew to look after the engine.
      Replace that with a few contractors, some food, a cook, a doctor that have then report to the deck when needed?
      Pirates try to approach, the private sector goes to work on the side of the ship.
      Ship sails on and the cargo and contractors are safe.
    • by Zemran ( 3101 )
      I think no crew or local controls. The pirates can get on board but not take control of the ship. It continues to the nearest naval ship and stops.
  • Does it turn into a giant mecha in case of kaiju?
  • Mechanical parts fail for one reason or another. You need engineering staff who can go in and fix things while the ship is underway. And you need crew on board to recheck the lines to make sure the loads and hatch covers remain properly secured while the ship is underway. There is a lot more to it than picking a course and steering.
    • I agree but it seems so many people fail to understand this. I've heard about passenger aircraft without crews for a long time. I know this won't happen. One reason is that as annoying as it might look to people that fly regularly those safety briefings at the beginning of the flight is important. Even if you don't care if your passengers are comfortable, or even if they survive, a 25 kg child getting tossed about in the cabin during turbulence can damage the plane. Having someone on the plane to check

      • I know this won't happen. One reason is that as annoying as it might look to people that fly regularly those safety briefings at the beginning of the flight is important. Even if you don't care if your passengers are comfortable, or even if they survive, a 25 kg child getting tossed about in the cabin during turbulence can damage the plane. Having someone on the plane to check for seat belts and whatever is cheap insurance.

        I disagree.

        First, you get rid of the pilots. You don't get rid of the Flight Attendants. They're the ones who check these things anyway.

        Second, suppose they get rid of the pilot and cut 30% off the ticket price. They will have no problem getting people in that airplane. Airline passengers care about price and that's it. You go to cheapotickets and you sort by price. You might make some adjustments based on the time you want to depart. But if you saw American was 30% cheaper than Delta and they left a

        • Your 30% figure is purely speculative, and the real cost difference is probably far less than this. The major costs for airlines is typically fuel, but they also have to pay for the aircraft lease and all of the ground crew that might load/unload an aircraft. These days many of the pilots aren't the highly paid union jobs that were common years ago. These days you get young people who work long hours and don't get paid all that much. Before you can get rid of pilots, you need to have automation handle
      • Well these companies that do ocean shipping as their business seem to disagree with you. It seems unlikely they haven't thought of the issues you mention.

    • You can already get an autopilot for your boat [westmarine.com] for just a few thousand dollars. So there's really nearly zero efficiency gain from using an AI to "plot the safest, shortest, most efficient route." You don't need an AI aboard the ship to do that. A supercomputer back at HQ with instant access to the most recent weather reports can do that, then relay the route to the ship via satellite.

      The only cost savings for what they're trying to do is eliminating the wages and supplies for the crew. Which as you
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      That would be fixed in the design part. If a navy or shipping company has a crew to fix things along the way, a ship will be built to that standard.
      Tell the designers they have to ensure port only service and they will build the new ship to a better standard.
      A bit like some parts of a nuclear submarine. They last for a while without needing to be serviced by the crew.
      In port contractors do all the needed repairs.
  • Great, call the AI "Mother", give the ship a skeleton crew, and hope it doesn't invoke special order 937

    http://alienanthology.wikia.co... [wikia.com]

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @10:55PM (#54589709)

    How do they plan to compete with intercontinental railroad? [wikipedia.org] Do you really think Elon is making those boring machines for commuter traffic?

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.

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