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Transportation Earth Software Hardware Technology

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

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Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars

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  • boats and planes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Boat and plane navigation is reasonably similar - it's 'head to waypoint', not 'navigate through twisty curves'.

    • Oblig. Simpsons [youtube.com] reference.
    • Boat and plane navigation is reasonably similar

      True, but ... boats have pirates. Planes don't.

      • And what are the pirates going to do when they pull along side a freighter off the coast of Somalia, and there is no crew to take hostage or even intimidate? They climb aboard and find the human operated controls are disabled when away from ports where a human pilot might be required.

        Pirates won't have much luck pirating a ship with no ability to fear their puny guns. Similarly it will be very difficult to carjack an automated car with no steering wheel.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          No need for guns with an unmanned ship.

          Somali style pirates climb aboard the automated ship and start pushing containers into the sea. More pirates tow containers to the shore & pop up shops selling their catch.

          People smugglers sell tickets & ferry migrants onto unmanned ships headed for the western world.

          Hacker pirates mess with the control logic & diverts the ship to another port. Perhaps also hiring some Somali to paint a new name & flag on the vessel.

          Dope smugglers put more cargo on boar

        • I disagree 100%.

          Until we update salvage laws, a ship out on the ocean with no crew will be fair game. Send someone out to disable it, and now it's "in peril", the key word that enables salvage. Then you can tow it to the nearest port and request a pile of cash for saving it. "Commiserate with the value of the salvaged ship and cargo" is a lot of money, "legally" obtained, provided you weren't the (wink wink) one who disabled that ship.

          • Easy peasy. Add a Halon system for the interior that is activated on a illegal boarding. So when the pirates enter the control areas, Halon dispensed, no one leaves.

            • Why would they need to enter? Have someone zip up behind it and tag the props with a few RPGs, or just lay some steel cable to foul up the props. Then send the tugs to go get it a few days later.

              Easy peasy.

              In salvage, the value is of the ship plus cargo, not just the cargo. No reason to go on board when you can just ransom, I mean salvage, the whole thing.

    • Boat and plane navigation is reasonably similar - it's 'head to waypoint', not 'navigate through twisty curves'.

      Actually...the article points out that a major source of avoidable expense and delays is collisions that take place in narrow and congested waterways--and often with inanimate, stationary objects. Inadvertent groundings, collisions with moored vessels, difficulties in constricted canals and locks. Insurance is a big cost.

  • by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @11:44PM (#56462169)

    That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

    Notice how none of these statistics address, at all, how much money there is in automating ships? Besides the hand-waving, the article doesn't address it at all.

    I mean, I'm sure that there's some, but just because most cargo goes by sea doesn't necessarily mean anything in relation to whether automating ships can save any money or increase revenue.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Combined with using workers from countries with lower pay and safety barriers for maritime workers, this helps put pressure on the remaining workers to get paid less. It's win win win for everybody except the line workers, who will get fucked like the rest of us by automation.

      The only bright side to all this is there is a new possibility for the rest of us to work towards semi-autonomous vessels that can remain permanently at sea, following the oceanic currents, and only need enough supplies for stationkeep

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @12:41AM (#56462297)

        A big container ship will have a crew of about 25. Of these, only 3 or 4 are directly involved in steering the ship: The captain, and a couple of deck officers, all of whom have other duties as well. And, as you said, they aren't paid much. So I don't see how this could possibly generate "ridiculous amounts of revenue" as claimed by TFA.

        • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @03:02AM (#56462595)
          I'll add that most of the rest of the crew are there to fix stuff when it breaks while at sea. If costs could be lowered by reducing the number of crew and adding redundancy and shortening maintenance schedules so there's nearly zero chance of any critical systems failing during a 1 month trans-oceanic voyage, shipping lines would've done it already.

          Ship crews are what they are because it's turned out to be cheaper to have ships staffed 24/7 by crew who can repair the exact item which breaks in-transit. This may not be obvious if you think of this from the standpoint of home or auto repair, where the cost of parts range from a few hours to a few days worth of labor. But on something as large as a ship, a part might cost several decades worth of a mariner's salary. And it ends up being cheaper to have someone aboard who can fix things, than to design all the systems to be redundant (add expensive backups) or swap out expensive working parts during maintenance because you're afraid they might fail during the next month-long voyage.
          • I worked part time as a machinist while I was in college. I got to be pretty good with lathes and vertical mills, and even learned G-code [wikipedia.org] before I learned Fortran.

            The most awe inspiring machine shop I ever saw was onboard a ship. They had every tool you could ever dream of, and could repair anything, or even build entire assemblies from raw sheets and blocks of metal. Today, it is likely all replaced by one 3D printer.

            • I worked part time as a machinist while I was in college. I got to be pretty good with lathes and vertical mills, and even learned G-code [wikipedia.org] before I learned Fortran.

              The most awe inspiring machine shop I ever saw was onboard a ship. They had every tool you could ever dream of, and could repair anything, or even build entire assemblies from raw sheets and blocks of metal. Today, it is likely all replaced by one 3D printer.

              It would be interesting to know how much they've adopted 3D printing in the large ship machine shops, and to what extent it has offset the traditional methods. You'd still want to store the common maintenance parts and not wait to print. To print an unusual part you need the model, which would need to exist already because they take a while to produce. They certainly could reduce stores and if they used the one part they have they could begin printing the next one for stores.

              There are still things that c

          • There are no month long voyages anymore since about 100 years ... just saying.

            Well, we have some 'green cargo sailing companies' that use sailing ships and run classical routes ...

            • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

              There are no month long voyages anymore since about 100 years ... just saying.

              Yes there are. It can take 2 weeks to almost a month just to cross the Pacific. Here's some Middle East/Horn of Africa times [maerskline.com]. That time includes several port stops, but just long enough to offload/load up cargo and resupply/refuel. Not long enough to do anything besides the simplest of repairs.

            • There are no month long voyages anymore since about 100 years ... just saying.

              Do you ever check your facts [arimotravels.com] before spouting off on a topic? Container ships routinely are at see for approximately a month. It takes around 25 days to transit across the Pacific from Sydney to LA. The trip from Germany to Chile takes 28 days [arimotravels.com]. Typical travel speed of a large container ship is something like 15-20 knots. Do the math.

              • There are no particular reason to take such routes (Germany to Chile), and a container ship is not going 15-20 knots but about 25. You are mixing them up with oil tankers.

                Anyways, both of your numbers are below "a month" and far below "months" (note the s).

                To find a route that takes "about a month" you need to be particularly picky.

        • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @04:15AM (#56462775) Homepage

          Of these, only 3 or 4 are directly involved in steering the ship: The captain, and a couple of deck officers, all of whom have other duties as well.

          And the article mentions that the current systems are only semi-autonomous.

          Means you won't be completely replacing the whole 3-4 guys steering the ship.
          The captain will still be around, probably at least one of the deck officers, in order to overwatch the semi-autonomous system whenever it requires human supervision.

          Compared to all the money involved in shipping cargo on huge container ship, the difference of salaries will barely register.

        • I don't see how this could possibly generate "ridiculous amounts of revenue" as claimed by TFA.

          Losses from pirates are high. Not only material losses, the cost of maintaining an anti-pirate army.

          What the article doesn't mention is that robo-ships are allowed to use automated defenses. They're much more efficient killers than the minimum wage deck hands.

          • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

            Losses from pirates are high. Not only material losses, the cost of maintaining an anti-pirate army.

            Huh? Cargo vessels aren't allowed to be armed. There's the option of hiring maritime security, but for a shipping line to staff a security detachment on each each ship is prohibitively expensive, if not outright prohibited due to local laws at their ports of call. They could do it air marshal style with detachments on a small number of ships but that won't really work as a deterrent either. Ships can use passive or non-lethal defenses such as water hoses (which they will already have to fight onboard fir

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          A big container ship will have a crew of about 25. Of these, only 3 or 4 are directly involved in steering the ship: The captain, and a couple of deck officers, all of whom have other duties as well. And, as you said, they aren't paid much. So I don't see how this could possibly generate "ridiculous amounts of revenue" as claimed by TFA.

          Crew costs are minimal compared to fuel. The main drive of transport automation, be it air, land or sea is to safe fuel.

      • I'm a little unclear as to why one would want to have a ship permanently at sea, but if it doesn't matter all that much where the ship is, where it is going, and when it gets to places, sails ought to work fine for propulsion.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I can imagine that the human crew would be bored or starved waiting for a slow, energy minimal transport vehicle to arrive at the destination. Solar, nuclear battery or similarly powered autonomous system could drive "slow cargo tire" of the future. Probably at least over 50 years in the future, as that's how long it takes for the companies to refresh their fleets. So it's at least a solution to a problem that doesn't exist yet.

    • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @01:01AM (#56462331)

      That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

      Notice how none of these statistics address, at all, how much money there is in automating ships? Besides the hand-waving, the article doesn't address it at all.

      I mean, I'm sure that there's some, but just because most cargo goes by sea doesn't necessarily mean anything in relation to whether automating ships can save any money or increase revenue.

      I agree entirely.

      These ships already require crews of dozens and carry cargo worth tens? hundreds of millions? The world's 2nd largest shipping company has 471 vessels [wikipedia.org], assume 1200 of its 24000 employees are pilots.

      Assume you manage to make it so unbelievably good that you eliminate every pilot, at ~$200k each you're saving ~$250 million a year for a company with revenue of $28 billion. Is a best-case 1% cost savings really revolutionary? And remember volume increases with the cube while area the square, meaning that bigger ships are more efficient in every way possible and they'll continue to grow in size. The cost of pilot wage relative to cargo will only continue to drop.

      The article mentions that an auto-pilot may be able to drive the ship more efficiently, if so I think there's massive revenue potential, but merely eliminating the position of pilot seems inconsequential.

      More likely I'd expect a plane-like auto-pilot driving 95% of the time while the virtually free pilots are there on standby. Most likely they have that already and the article is hyping based on bad assumptions.

      • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

        Isn't shipping pretty much a commodity though?

        A 1% shift in cost is likely a double digit shift in profits, maybe mid double digits even?

        And if you're the last company to automate that 1%, you won't have customers, as in the end, the savings will likely be passed on (commodity and all that).

        1% cost I a competitive market is quite large (could easily be 20% of profits on an average year).

      • You are correct.
        Most ships already drive 90%/95% of the time fully automatic. Basically every sailing yacht has an autopilot.
        Only in/close to harbours and on high traffic lanes the skipper and/or helmsman is running the ship.
        And: a pilot is not what you think it is. Plenty of routes have a pilot requirement, a guy with special education/knowledge of the local waters. It is unlikely that he would run the ship on autopilot.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        he article mentions that an auto-pilot may be able to drive the ship more efficiently

        Almost all ships are already controlled by an autopilot. Heck, even most small pleasure craft have gps based autopilots today.

    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

      I'm also curious what percentage of the lbor cost of a ship is in the navigation and driving.

      I'd suspect there is a ton of support crew relative to that part, and many of then won't be automated away (mechanics, cooks (somewhat reduced), janitors, etc.

  • Sigh (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    'In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving.'

    No, they won't. If any of this comes about at all, it'll be restricted to vehicles in remote or controlled places (like the middle of the sea or closed driving areas) and it will likely only go about as far as autopilot on commercial jets. No more deaths would be tolerated under any circumstances in any kind of test. This is really no different than what the military in terms of R & D did

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @12:02AM (#56462207) Homepage Journal

    Maybe start with a pilot program.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 19, 2018 @12:13AM (#56462237)

    The environment is simply more forgiving and more constrained for boats, planes, space probes, mining equipment, farming equipment, tunnel service robots, and non-personal autonomous systems (aka pizza delivery bots on sidewalks). They all will appear on the market before a consumer-grade L5 car will be available to fleet operators on a large scale, meaning servicing everything from northern Alaska to southern Patagonia during any season in any city.

    Everybody, including Google, has only demonstration systems that operate under very specific constrained environments. They are impressive (especially Google's system), push innovation (e.g., autopilot and supercruise), and are fun to think about, but nowhere near that they could start manufacturing them with a profit to be sold to fleet operators at Level 5.

    • Toyota, Audi (obviously all VW brands), Mercedes, BMW have self driving cars since decades.
      And they work perfectly fine ... (and no, they don't use ANN or proclaimed 'AI').

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As with all new technology its going to be abused by someone. Drug smugglers and human traffickers come to mind.
    Why put yourself at risk when you can have a Autonomous Boat to do all the work.
     

    • I reckon that fully automated ships ought to be the greatest boon to piracy since the invention of the cutlass. You don't even have to go out in potentially nasty weather to steal a shipload of containers -- just hack into the ship's network via any on board IOT device and run it up a remote beach where you can loot it at leisure while it's navigation gear reports back to the owners that it's en route to Montevideo..

      • I reckon that fully automated ships ought to be the greatest boon to piracy since the invention of the cutlass.

        But where's the fun, if there's no one to make walk the plank?

      • The navigation gear can not report a false position, as AIS etc. is picked up from orbit via sattelites ...

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The navigation gear can not report a false position, as AIS etc. is picked up from orbit via sattelites ...

          Spoof GPS, jam AIS.

          Also, if there is no one on board, a pirate can board with little risk / drama, and take what they want. There are news reports of people breaking into shipping company logistics databases and looking for high value items.

  • Simple enough (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archfeld ( 6757 ) <treboreel@live.com> on Thursday April 19, 2018 @12:32AM (#56462279) Journal

    These kinds of ships spend almost their entire voyage on "auto pilot" now, and they require a local pilot and tug to navigate into harbor. With the lack of personnel I'd bet insurance rates go down in case of piracy, the need for food and crew space goes away and can be used for more cargo. The ships will still be met and guided into any harbor by the same system we use now.

    • With the lack of personnel I'd bet insurance rates go down in case of piracy

      ...or way up because piracy will become a lot easier if there are no crew.

      • With the lack of personnel I'd bet insurance rates go down in case of piracy

        ...or way up because piracy will become a lot easier if there are no crew.

        Who needs to board it if it has a data link that can be compromised and let you redirect the vessel to a new port? The modern pirate will be someone thousands of miles away in their mom's basement hacking ships for phone; bringing the term piracy back to its original meaning.

    • Seems pointless.

      Personnel are cheap low cost labour who double as repair workers.
      Insurance rates for a system that is unable to be repaired at see and could require a tow would be astronomical.
      The need for food and crew space could fit maybe an additional container or 2 on an already massive vessel.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Recreational vessels have autopilots now, and they are usually can be fed courses from the vessel's chart plotter. I think some of the better integrated systems can also be tied to AIS and radar for basic course corrections to avoid collisions.

      I would think commercial ships would have something similar. You'll always need pilots and/or tugs for getting in and out of port, although I suppose it's possible that you could start to see remote piloting, where the harbor pilot would supply a course or where a s

    • These kinds of ships spend almost their entire voyage on "auto pilot" now, and they require a local pilot and tug to navigate into harbor. With the lack of personnel I'd bet insurance rates go down in case of piracy, the need for food and crew space goes away and can be used for more cargo. The ships will still be met and guided into any harbor by the same system we use now.

      While I agree on the pilot and tug, the vessel would still require a crew to operate it in the harbor. The pilot directs the vessel's movements but does not operate it; which makes sense as a pilot could not be expected to understand how every vessel responds to propulsion and rudder commands, that requires someone experienced in handling the vessel. Add in the idiots who don't understand the law of gross tonnage and cut across your bow while you are in the channel and while I have no doubt you could build

    • Out on the open sea, when it's calm, all you need is a radar to look out for other ships, and a GPS to know where you're going.

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      But when you get rid of the crew, whose going to deal with the required maintenance. Shit breaks at sea and you need a crew to fix it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let us face it: driving cars was one of those things which seemed easy for a computer to do but which has turned out to be very hard and probably impossible to do safely. Perhaps not ever as safe as a human. Yes I know they can... in movies. We're talking about real life here.
     
    Boats are another thing that seem easy but ocean conditions can be treacherous. I remember a boater timing a surge to cross a bar with the waves. Let's see a computer boat do that any better.

    • Let us face it: driving cars was one of those things which seemed easy for a computer to do but which has turned out to be very hard and probably impossible to do safely.

      Just goes to show that cars and people don't mix.

    • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @01:33AM (#56462403) Homepage

      Level 4 vehicles (fully self-driving, no human attendant, but geofenced to a specific area) are already here [arstechnica.com], working in real life, and have been all year. Hundreds of these are already ferrying the public around Phoenix, and they now have a licence [bloomberg.com] for full commercial operation.

      Expect to see thousands more [theverge.com] real self-driving robotaxis in service in the 25 cities they're being tested in today.

      • Level 4 vehicles (fully self-driving, no human attendant, but geofenced to a specific area) are already here [arstechnica.com], working in real life, and have been all year.

        From your link:

        "On November 7, Waymo announced that it was going to start testing cars without a safety driver. "

        So when did they start? That announcement and entire article says that they intend to start. It doesn't say that they have started.

        Hundreds of these are already ferrying the public around Phoenix, and they now have a licence [bloomberg.com] for full commercial operation.

        You claim that they are already ferrying people, the article says that they intend to use the license to ferry people. Do you have another link? This one doesn't support your claim. What they intend to do and what they are currently doing are two different things.

        • Fair point - they were shuttling passengers around for months last year, but with a safety driver. Then they took out the safety driver in November, but I didn't realise they stopped taking passengers for a time - the driverless cars were empty. According to this link [fortune.com], they've been taking actual passengers again for the last month, still sans drivers.

  • Apparently China loses a freighter every other day. It was causally mentioned in a news story because an American freighter went down (which is rare). It's bizarre to think that as I type this there's a 50/50 chance an entire ship's crew is going to die. It's also bizarre that their cargo and lives are so cheap that nobody notices or cares. I'd love to think we could put an end to that with humanitarianism, but hell, I didn't even know about it until it was mentioned offhand in an article...

    Oh, one othe
    • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @01:44AM (#56462435) Homepage

      Are these not being reported? Because global ship losses seem a lot less [statista.com] than one every other day

    • Aside from the fact that you're off by a factor of 15 on the actual losses you also seem to not understand how statistics work.

    • Well,
      if you would realize that a year has 365/366 days. And that your claim would imply over 360 sunken ships per year, you would realize how implausible (actually retarded) your idea is.
      I doubt on the whole planet we manage to have so many sunken ships.
      A big ship sinks about every five years, probably even less frequent, and that usually makes world wide news.

      • Well, with a population of 7+ billion, 360 ships sunk per year is not an astounding or impossible number.

        It likely all depends on how one classifies what is a ship, and what is merely a watercraft and/or boat.
        • The parent was talking about Chinese ships only.

          And someone answered to my my post and pointed out that world wide ship loss is in the range of 50 per year (plus ships on rivers etc.)

          • The parent (or great-great-great-grandparent) mentioned China's high loss rate as being a significant contributor to the numbers. He did mention it was used to contrast the negligible by comparison numbers of US ships sunk.

            I was just pointing out that 360 sunken ships per year doesn't seem like a drastically unrealistic number in the wake of 5,419,000 car crashes in the US in 2010. Which being a stastistic for the US only, is significantly lower than the global number of accidents. Not all ships being big
  • For example, cruise ships have typically been run by autopilot for years already.

    http://www.beyondships2.com/fa... [beyondships2.com]

    They don't even drop anchor in port, but just tell the autopilot to hold position.

    Compared to cars, automatically piloting ships is easy, because there is a lot more room for error. For most of the journey, if the boat is half a mile off course, nobody cares!

  • This really seems like something the the US Navy needs... desperately. For everyone else though... the ocean is pretty large so likely it is not so urgent.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2017/0... [cnn.com]

  • Ain't gonna happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MatthewWalker ( 4253615 ) on Thursday April 19, 2018 @01:31AM (#56462401)
    I spent 20 years going to sea. All during that time, the companies were trying to cut back on the crew. And, they pretty much have done it. The only people on board now are a skeleton crew to keep the ship moving. But, they can't cut down any more.

    The problem is not that the technology is bad. The problem is that going to sea is much more complicated than non-seagoing people think. And, the sea is terribly unforgiving of any mistakes, incapacity or inattentiveness. We have gyrocompasses but we do check them against the magnetic compass. We have wonderful tracking radars with gyro stabilized displays. But, we still have lookouts for the things that radars do not pick up (like small boats). Satellite navigation provides us with accurate fixes, 24 hours a day. But, I still brought my sextant, and was expected to use it.

    The engine room has a similar situation. Having engineers to maintain and repair the equipment is imperative. There are no repair crews when you are in the middle of the ocean.

    A completely automated ship is even less likely than an automated airliner without a pilot.

    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      I don't think too many people understand what maintenance on large machinery means. It's slightly different than the occasional oil change and swapping tires every few years when they're bald that people are used to.

      With that in mind though, i don't think it's impossible to design more redundancy and automate a lot of the maintenance if that's factored into the design. To date, it's just been far easier and cheaper to have an engineer do it.

      How you handle a connecting rod replacement in the middle of the

      • >

        With that in mind though, i don't think it's impossible to design more redundancy and automate a lot of the maintenance if that's factored into the design. To date, it's just been far easier and cheaper to have an engineer do it.

        How you handle a connecting rod replacement in the middle of the ocean without humans would be interesting though. But perhaps the answer is you don't. You design enough redundancy into the ship to continue after even a major engineering fault and then you send out a crew to the ship for repair. But overall I don't think there's that much savings to all this and, frankly, people are better off having the jobs available a lot of the time.

        The problem with redundancy is it ads weight, takes up space, and drives up costs in an industry where operating costs are significant. A complete second engine room (or power generator / pod) in case your main propulsion develops a problem at sea is expensive to build and still needs periodic maintenance. You'd essentially double your maintenance costs at the expense of saving on crew costs. In addition, some failures could not be ignored and handled by redundancy; for example if a shaft seal starts leakin

      • It really doesn't make sense to imagine a fully autonomous cargo ship as long as the vessel is anything other than all-electric, which also wouldn't make sense at this point. If we found a cheaper way to separate hydrogen, maybe it would make sense to use fuel cells, but we're not there now.

  • eTrac Engineering has been using my system in and around the SF bay since 2008. Since we're talking about innovation, hey, did you hear about bitcoin?
  • We have much fewer boats than cars over a surface that much larger than all the streets put together.

    The possibility of a shipcrash are much lower.

    • In that case, I can definitively say that you have never been in the South China Sea, or through the Singapore Straits or through the Straights of Gibraltar. The problem isn't a lot of ocean (there is). The problem is that some sections are very popular (for good reasons).

      A ship guidance system (computer) can handle *known* variables very well. What it can't do is handle unpredictable situations.

      That's where the trouble comes from.
  • All those containers get loaded and unloaded by people operating cranes. Being able to optimize crane movement has got to be worth a lot of money in reducing the time a ship has to be at the dock.

    -jcr

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I knew a guy working on autonomous boats (racing - basically an X prize kinda thing). They discovered one major issue - in international waters, a boat with no people on it is subject to salvage by international treaty! Yep, they could not run their contest in the open ocean, or someone could come by, and TAKE the boat

    Gonna takes some changes, or at least have one member of a caretaker crew

  • Its not self-driving until I can get in the back seat and sleep while attaining my destination. Then get out, tell the car to go park itself somewhere, and summon it later when I'm done.

    This nonsense of someone sitting in a driver's seat, breathlessly waiting to grab the wheel away from the errant computer is just a formula to 1) die in a horrible accident or 2) get your ass sued off because you are incapable of being that attentive with nothing concerning you is happening for hours and hours. Someone s

  • Presumably boats don't have to deal with pedestrians stepping out in front of them - at least, not these days.

  • Unmanned ships carrying valuable cargo? All I can say is: ARRRRRR! (There will be a global renaissance of piracy on the high seas! Why pirate some crappy movies or songs when you can take control of hundreds of tons of actual merchandise!)
  • There is no way you can automate that shit.

    Jesus, it looks like a destruction derby with the combination of snow, ice, and wild west driving. Those dash cams are amazing.

    They are on Youtube.

    In many cases, there is just nothing the person driving the car can do.

  • With such limited crews, how will the ships handle emergencies such as fires or taking on water? A minimum number of people are required to deal with these emergencies.

    Will they just let them sink into the ocean and deal with the cleanup afterwards?

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