Autonomous shipping

Autonomous shipping

AI shipping or we can precisely call it Autonomous shipping, is a vision for shipping in the era of artificial intelligence. The first thing we needed to ask is, what is autonomous shipping about? So we've seen in the hype of topics like, automation, optimization, machine learning, deep learning and many other topics. So autonomous shipping basically asks the question, what if all these things come together and are integrated into a ship and help us build the ship of the future? According to Waterborne TP, an autonomous ship is described as a, "Next generation modular control systems and communications technology, which will enable wireless monitoring and control functions both on and off board." So the idea is that, the ship can be controlled remotely and, as this technology progresses, it will be completely autonomous. It will not require, not even, remote control. It will just require maybe some remote checking, every now and then.

Autonomous shipping

There's a grand vision, but most companies don't believe that this will be released anytime soon. Rolls Royce is a company that is really pushing to materialize this vision. And they believe that starting from 2020 up to 2035, they'll start from remotely controlled vehicles and they'll move towards completely autonomous unmanned ships, which are running on AI based control systems. Meant a human will only intervene remotely if there is some kind of critical situation that requires human control. So it's not only Rolls Royce that believes in this vision. The European commission, as well, in their report, they have stated that they believe that autonomous shipping is going to be a key factor in growth over the next few decades.
There are different kinds of autonomy. So first of all, have the manned ship, which is what we have right now. Traditional ship with a very large crew. Then the vision that we are exploring, now, is the remote ship and the automated ship. This means that there's a smaller crew than before because many systems are autonomous. They can work on their own. And many other systems are remotely controlled. And the fully autonomous ship, is a ship that requires minimal intervention by human. Ideally, the autonomous ship should be able to complete a trip with no intervention at all.

Autonomous shipping

There are many related topics to autonomous shipping, actually, many different problems that need to be solved and challenges to overcome in order to materialize this vision. The technical side will have navigation technology, automated on-board systems, remote control technology. And on the human factors, will have issues such as, the regulation, adaptation of the workforce. And, also, what would happen in incidents such as piracy. How can we prevent this? It's clear that the reasons that autonomous shipping is the future is because there are many economic benefits.

So first of all, with smaller crew this is a cost that the companies are going to save on. And secondly, their ships can have a more efficient design and the space can be utilized in a different way. There will be no need for crew quarters, for shoes, etc. This means that more cargo will be able to fit in the ship. Also the crew will be more specialized. They will be used for other things and not for jobs, which can be very simply automated. Something else that's very important, is that, human error is still the main factor of mistakes and problems in shipping. So by eliminating the human component or by reducing it, we hope that we can also avoid that incident at sea.

Let's take a look at the current research that's taking place in autonomous shipping. As I mentioned, there are many different challenges that we need to overcome to reach this vision of the autonomous ship. One of those challenges is collision avoidance. Building a system that is taking into account hardware, such as, communication, and GPS, and different conditions in order to avoid colliding with other ships, with objects, etc. Obviously, these solutions applications have already existed in technologies. Another solution for collision avoidance, for example, is a very creative solution to use unmanned aerial surveillance systems. So, this is a solution proposed by Johansen and Perez. What they proposed is you need to have an unmanned aerial vehicle that scans the area for any objects that a ship should avoid before the ship reaches this point.

Another related challenge for autonomous shipping is automated inspection. With no crew on board, there needs to be some way to inspect if there's any damage on the hull of the ship. Or, if there are any other issues around the ship. And, the proposed solution is the use of autonomous robots. So, there could be devices like this one, this autonomous underwater vehicle, which goes around the ship and detects any issues that show up by using cameras and artificial intelligence.

Autonomous shipping

The biggest challenges right now, however, for autonomous shipping are not necessarily the chronological because technology progresses. And, most of these challenges will be overcome sooner or later. The main challenges that autonomous shipping is facing right now, is first of all, the legal regulation because it's a grey area, basically. It's not clear whether autonomous ships are allowed and how regulations should treat them and who's liable in case an accident happens, etc. And the second challenge is that there are no standards right now around autonomous shipping. So this is something that, once again, needs to be developed. And that's very critical because if you have autonomous vehicles in the sea, they should be able to exchange data in order to avoid collisions, in order to communicate with each other. So it's very likely we've going to see the creation of many different standards in this area coming out in the next few years. So something, which I find very exciting, personally, is, I'm really keen on seeing how this interplay between autonomous shipping and AI and other technologies will play out in the near future. As I mentioned earlier, we'll have general purpose algorithms, but they're becoming better and better. We have deep learning, which is rapidly advancing. And, some people have started talking about general AI. So, I'm very interested to see how this will be applied in autonomous shipping.

And, finally, in terms of standards and exchanging data and regulations, blockchain can be a very powerful technology because it can facilitate the exchange of data make compliance with any regulations that will show up in the future. It's a technology that I believe, will be a key factor in economic growth in the next few decades. And, I'm sure we're gonna see more and more exciting stuff coming out in this area.

 



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