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Rolls Royce Developing Drone Cargo Ships

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the so-easy-the-drive-themselves dept.

Transportation 216

kc123 writes in with news that Rolls Royce is designing unmanned cargo ships."Rolls-Royce's Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel's bridge. Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships. Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says."

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until someone hacks it (2)

beltsbear (2489652) | about 5 months ago | (#46354557)

And drives it into a pier with many people.

Re:until someone hacks it (5, Insightful)

Cryacin (657549) | about 5 months ago | (#46354679)

Hmmm, let's see. Several tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of floating kit, carrying possibly just as much value in cargo, int he middle of nowhere, with no-one in sight, just a video camera. Hmmm.

Will the pirates at least wave and say thank you to the crew when they take manual control of the ship? How about just looting a few cargo containers as it's travelling along?

Re:until someone hacks it (4, Interesting)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 5 months ago | (#46354831)

Hmmm, let's see. Several tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of floating kit, carrying possibly just as much value in cargo, int he middle of nowhere, with no-one in sight, just a video camera. Hmmm.

Will the pirates at least wave and say thank you to the crew when they take manual control of the ship? How about just looting a few cargo containers as it's travelling along?

And yet, the outcome is still better than it is now, where they hijack the ship and hold the crew ransom. Here, they hijack the ship, and.. that's it. There's no crew to hold for ransom, no one to talk to for instant quick payment, etc. You save human lives.

The only way to make money is for the pirates to go and sell the contents of the containers, which requires a lot more time, effort and money and takes a lot of time. Holding a crew hostage could easily get $10M+ in a week. Making money selling what's in the containers takes far longer.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

rts008 (812749) | about 5 months ago | (#46354977)

And no control over the contents that specific ship may have, or whether they can find a market for the booty...I don't buy it either.

I was under the impression that the whole point of the piracy was the payoff on the hostages, and really had nothing to do with the ship's cargo. (generalization, not 100% accurate)

Re:until someone hacks it (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355435)

And no control over the contents that specific ship may have, or whether they can find a market for the booty...I don't buy it either.

I was under the impression that the whole point of the piracy was the payoff on the hostages, and really had nothing to do with the ship's cargo. (generalization, not 100% accurate)

And no control over the ship either. The remote crew could just sail it to the nearest friendly warship.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

turbidostato (878842) | about 5 months ago | (#46355051)

"The only way to make money is for the pirates to go and sell the contents of the containers"

Yeah... just like the only way for somebody stealing a famous work of art to make money is selling it.

Did you think about insurance companies willing to pay 10 millions for a cargo valued 150?

Re:until someone hacks it (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about 5 months ago | (#46355309)

why bother when you can pay 5 million to goons who go and whack the pirates back into the sea(since they have no hostages...).

Re:until someone hacks it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355511)

"$10M or your $LARGESUM ship and cargo land at the bottom of the ocean".

Re:until someone hacks it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355355)

When there are no crew members you can send in troops to kill all the pirates...

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355535)

Plot twist: What if I send robotic pirates?

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | about 5 months ago | (#46355555)

Or just gas anyone who comes on board the moment they set off an internal PIR.

Re:until someone hacks it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355501)

Does it? Allot of organized crime already has one or several buyers for whatever is stolen. And the buyer(s) are usually the ones who gave the information of what where and when it can be stolen.

Some lives might be saved, but having a hard/long time to make money selling the contents, i hardly doubt it.

Re:until someone hacks it (2)

DrXym (126579) | about 5 months ago | (#46355627)

It would be less Captain Phillips and more ED-209.

Re:until someone hacks it (0, Offtopic)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 5 months ago | (#46355017)

Since there will be no humans on board worth keeping alive, I'd say just put some electric charge on the entire hull.
I'm sure some better defense systems could be built if you don't have to worry about keeping a crew safe.

Re:until someone hacks it (2)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 5 months ago | (#46355443)

Why not automatically releasing cages containing polar bears, killer bees, and tawny crazy ants to mess with the pirates electronics! (Sorry, too much coding and my brain is a little loopy today)

Re:until someone hacks it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355213)

Will the pirates at least wave and say thank you to the crew when they take manual control of the ship?

What manual control? Part of the advantage is supposedly the elimination of the bridge and associated structures, to increase cargo capacity. The controls would therefore not be accessible. (Presumably there would be an interface in the engine compartment for maintenance crew to plug into. But that would require the hijackers to have the right computer equipment to access those systems. Somalian hijackers are pretty simple; small outboard boats, grapples, and a bunch of AK47s (and maybe one RPG for effect.))

How about just looting a few cargo containers as it's travelling along?

Generally requires them to be able to stop the ship in order to allow them to off-load whatever they've looted into their small boats.

Re:until someone hacks it (4, Interesting)

DrXym (126579) | about 5 months ago | (#46355623)

With no "good guys" to care about, there are all kinds of novel things the ship could do. It could be remotely or automatically steered to the nearest warship or safe harbour. Parts of the ship could made impassable with bars or shutters. Other parts could flooded with tear gas, frictionless liquids, strong adhesives, permanent marker dye etc. On the outside nets or grapples could be thrown out to foul the pirates boats or propellers. Stun grenades could be fired etc. Cargo could be protected with electrified fences, barbed wire etc.

The ultimate failsafe if remote control was impossible and communication was disabled would be to trip a few circuits deep in the ship, jam the rudder and drop anchors. Good luck towing that. Basically it could be made really unpleasant and futile to hijack these ships. But it could make for some amusing news headlines.

Re:until someone hacks it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355651)

Hmmm, let's see. Several tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of floating kit, carrying possibly just as much value in cargo, int he middle of nowhere, with no-one in sight, just a video camera. Hmmm.

Will the pirates at least wave and say thank you to the crew when they take manual control of the ship? How about just looting a few cargo containers as it's travelling along?

How are these comments modded up? Does anyone bother to realize the makers of this had already thought about this? I can see the "/. crowd" has forgotten something called common sense. If it was an American company I could almost promise you it lacks any security from getting hacked.

And in all fairness it is possible this company completely forgets something that turns out to be a major problem down the road.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

Demonantis (1340557) | about 5 months ago | (#46354695)

Wouldn't happen. Most large cargo ships dock under tug control. The automated ships would probably operate in the same way. The only time they would really be automated would be at sea. Losing contact while at sea would be the greatest danger and that would be mostly to the ship and cargo.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

Demonantis (1340557) | about 5 months ago | (#46354701)

I meant unmanned not automated.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#46354995)

I think the GP is implying that whoever seized control of the ship would be free to take it into port without the tugs and intentionally ram something.

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#46355189)

Unless the ship was remotely controllable....

Re:until someone hacks it (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#46355439)

I think the GP was implying that the bad guys had the remote control.

I saw this before! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354703)

There was a T-Rex Onboard, and it did quite a bit of damage in L.A.

In other news... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354745)

Beta still sucks massive donkey balls. Resuming slashcott.

Re:until someone hacks it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354747)

God wouldn't be up this late...

Worst. Idea. Ever. (4, Insightful)

n1ywb (555767) | about 5 months ago | (#46354589)

I don't even know where to begin. The ocean is a harsh environment and ships work hard and maintenance and upkeep is a constant chore day in and day out both in port and while underway. The engineering crew is basically the travelling maintenance department. If the ship doesn't carry a crew, it will have to come out of service for maintenance and repairs, which means not only is it not making money, it's tying up an expensive berth in port. If it does break down while underway, how is anybody going to get to it? It could take days.

Re:Worst. Idea. Ever. (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 5 months ago | (#46355481)

Hence, the idea is to equip those ships with infallible (*) engines.

(*) If the engine does fail, another drone ship will come and replace the whole engine automatically.

Re:Worst. Idea. Ever. (2)

SimonInOz (579741) | about 5 months ago | (#46355635)

Er yeah, well maybe. I used to do a fair bit of cruising. I admit the idea of an unmanned cargo ship barrelling down on my unsuspecting sailing boat is a bit scary. But on the other hand, do they ever keep watch in the open ocean anyway? ... I confess I doubt it. Might be an improvement.

I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

ip_freely_2000 (577249) | about 5 months ago | (#46354595)

In the middle of the ocean, any kind of 'cops' would be days away.

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#46354655)

Modern pirates make most of their money by kidnapping and ransoming crews. If there is no crew, there is far less incentive to board the ship.

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | about 5 months ago | (#46354743)

Incentive, like, for instance, a boatload of luxury cars waiting to be stolen?

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (3, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | about 5 months ago | (#46354971)

in containers that aren't labelled, stacked 5 high and 10 wide [or more], where you would have to move most containers to be able to actually open them to see inside, nevermind the whole "in the middle of the ocean without a road in sight" thing.

and while it could be fairly easy to disable remote control of the ship [by physically destroying/disconnecting the antenae/satellite dish], and they can kill the engine, it may not be that easy to get control of the ship to get it to shore in a reasonable [for the pirate] way.

maybe it will become a 'give us money or we'll sink it' thing?

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#46355205)

You mean, "give us money or we'll sink it, and drown in the process - or the very least, get caught."

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355221)

How exactly would they offload them?

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355613)

1. Open it.

2. Decide they don't like what's inside.

3. Remove bolts.

4. Toss overboard.

5. Check next container.

6. Repeat untill valueables found.

7. Sell valueables.

8. Profit.

Wait, I forgot the ...

Now I don't know if it is easy to toss a container overboard. I imagine they are heavy so I guess not. However, one inventive pirate might be able to fix that (maybe a couple of hydrolic jacks to push it).

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#46354665)

In the middle of the ocean, any kind of 'cops' would be days away.

On the other hand, you aren't going to get much of a ransom for a satellite modem and a half-rack of control gear, no matter how menacing and willing to kill the hostages you look... Also, even crewed vessels of any significant size are usually wearing a beacon of some type, and if the cops are days away, so to is the nearest possible buyer for the cargo.

(Probably more relevant, with the exception of, quite atypical, security contractors brought on out of necessity for very, very, bad neighborhoods, it is usually not within the power, or the job description, of the crew to fight pirates. A drone would probably be incrementally less able to get really pissed off and make a dead hero of himself with the ships' highest-power fire hose; but that's about it.)

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354905)

Stop thinking inside the box. If I were a pirate, I would hold the very expensive ship for ransom.

"Hi guys, see this shaped charge I have placed just below the waterline? It would be a shame if it went off, given that the naval patrols are days away..."

How many sinkings would it take before these ships become uninsurable? Companies would pay.

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (2)

MickLinux (579158) | about 5 months ago | (#46355625)

And you forget about the ever-present dockworkers unions, that note what goes in each container, and where it is located... this might make things much easier for the mafias.

That said, the biggest offense is that our wealthy and powerful are continually trying to find ways to eliminate -- and put to death -- the very people who have supported them.

In other words, they are traitors.

Re: I'm sure pirates will like them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354667)

What are pirates going to do with no access to controls?

Re: I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#46354839)

pull out the control cards and let the ships go dead.

Re: I'm sure pirates will like them. (1, Interesting)

Deb-fanboy (959444) | about 5 months ago | (#46354939)

What are pirates going to do with no access to controls?

There will allways be a manual override, on the fancy automated vessels that I check out (fully equiped with Dynamic Positioning systems or DP) there are automatic control systems (DP), simple backup joystick systems and finally simple manual systems (levers for thrusters). These would very likely remain. A pilot would need access to these when taking the vessel into harbour.

Even though it is possible to have vessels remote controlled while at sea they would still need to be manned when they come into the quayside in a harbour. When I come into harbour after testing vessels for sea trials the captain always completes the delicate berthing procedure using the simple manual levers

As for disabling the remote control systems, plastic buckets over the small satellite domes and if there is a large V-Sat then just pull the plug.

So the hijackers just need to come on board the vessel armed with buckets, and perhaps a wire snip for the V-Sat. Also it would seem like a victimless crime to them. They get a ship load of equipment to sell, nobody is hurt, and the insurer pays

Re: I'm sure pirates will like them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355553)

Why would anyone bother with boarding the ship? The pirates will simply blackmail the shipping companies - if they don't get paid, they will simply sink the ship.

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 5 months ago | (#46354935)

I'm sure pirates will like them. In the middle of the ocean, any kind of 'cops' would be days away.

But will they like the pair of Hailfire Droids that went along for the ride?

Re:I'm sure pirates will like them. (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 5 months ago | (#46355487)

That's why these ships would be equipped with a self-destruct mechanism.

Fallout 2 did it first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354607)

Now all we need is a nuclear war...

What do the humans actually do on a ship? (4, Insightful)

steveha (103154) | about 5 months ago | (#46354611)

The article is mainly about using telepresence and computers to pilot a ship. But other than piloting, what else do humans do, and how automatable is it?

For example, how often do people have to repair ships while under way? During a storm, do people ever have to run around fixing chains that are working loose, or fix a leaking seal and set up pumps to pump out a flooded compartment?

I don't know the answers to the above questions, by the way. I don't know much about cargo ships.

Even if we still need humans for some tasks on a cargo ship, perhaps not too far in the future, we might have telepresence robots that can do the tasks.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (4, Insightful)

n1ywb (555767) | about 5 months ago | (#46354699)

Pretty much constantly. Entropy is a bitch and the sea generates a lof of it.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354731)

Why not build more reliable ships? Last time I checked, very few airplanes need in-air service.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (1)

cameloid (120654) | about 5 months ago | (#46354795)

Or a submarine. A nuclear submarine.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (3, Informative)

Firethorn (177587) | about 5 months ago | (#46354851)

very few airplanes need in-air service.

I remember reading about a plane where there was a crawspace so you could do maintenance on engines while in flight. But I'll point out that cargo ships are often out of dock for 30+ days at a time, while planes are hardly ever up for more than half a day, after which they go through large amounts of maintenance.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (5, Funny)

angularbanjo (1521611) | about 5 months ago | (#46354925)

I remember reading about a plane where there was a crawspace so you could do maintenance

No, that's where they put the snakes.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355249)

I remember reading about a plane where there was a crawspace

"Crayfish on a plane"?

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354913)

Salt is a ship killer. It is like a cancer.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (2)

imsabbel (611519) | about 5 months ago | (#46355241)

Oh, yeah, you COULD do it.
If you overengineered the ships (making them 5 times more expensive) AND had complete checks agter every 1000 operation hours of everything (which is basically every round-trip for a container ship).

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355311)

Why not build more reliable ships? Last time I checked, very few airplanes need in-air service.

Because transporting cargo at sea with ships that are constantly maintained by the crew is infinitely cheaper than ships of Indestructium and Tooexpensivium. And as long as there are some maintenance needs at sea, you need a crew and what's the point in paying them for being on board even if it is just on standby most of the time?

A concept like this has much more potential in aircraft. Like you said, they neither are nor can undergo maintenance in the air and from watching every episode of Air Crash investigation at least once, I've learned that in most accidents where the crew's actions actually contributed to a better outcome, they contacted ground crews for advice or were lucky enough to have some additional knowledge and brainpower on board. When average crews simply cannot know everything about their aircraft and automation is increasing constantly, I foresee that in the future, aircraft will be flown without pilots on board and the automation will hand over control to the manufacturer's remote control readiness facility when the shit hits the (turbine) fan. Then the people that have the very best knowledge of all of its systems would be at the controls and the chances of a better outcome are maximized. When I watched a documentary about the A380 I learned that most of the engineers that lead the development are also test pilots so they literally test their design and do so with their own lives on the line. If an aircraft in an emergency could be remotely flown by people like that instead of an average crew, it would be saved, if at all possible. Not to mention that the most common accident cause, pilot error, would not be there in the first place.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355547)

Why not build more reliable ships? Last time I checked, very few airplanes need in-air service.

That's because:
1. Planes are a helluva lot more expensive per pound of carrying capacity.
2. Planes don't spend days at a time in the air. Conversely, ships do.
3. Planes spend more time on the ground than actually flying, giving more opportunity for maintenance. Conversely, in order to be economically efficient, ships spend more time at sea than in port.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (4, Informative)

floobedy (3470583) | about 5 months ago | (#46354941)

But other than piloting, what else do humans do, and how automatable is it?

Generally the employees on a ship are divided into officers and crew. The officers include the captain, first mate, and second mate. Also the officers include the engineering department, with a chief engineer, second engineer, and third engineer. Among the crew, there are a bunch of seamen (perhaps 5 or more of them). There is also a steward and a cook.

All of these people are divided into shifts. At any given time, there are 5 or so people working: one deck officer (such as the captain), one engineer (who is maintaining the large engine), and a couple of able seaman, one of whom is on lookout at the front of the ship.

I doubt they could do away with the engineering positions. These ships have large engines which require continuous maintenance. It won't be done by robots any time soon.

Perhaps they could automate the captain/lookout positions. Doing so would reduce the people on a shift from 5 or so, to 3. Perhaps there could be one captain for a convoy of ships, and a single lookout for the forward-most ship in the convoy. Also they could reduce the steward/cook to one person (instead of two) per ship in that case.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (4, Insightful)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#46355223)

This idea is being proposed by an engine manufacture. I'm sure they thought about engine maintenance.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (1)

xelah (176252) | about 5 months ago | (#46355591)

I'd hazard a guess that Rolls Royce might make engines which require less maintenance than usual, or maintenance which can be carried out quickly at each port, and so have come up with this idea because it would help turn that in to a competitive advantage. I also notice they mention the Baltic as a first place to try something, which I assume implies quite short voyages.

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355629)

Well, maybe. More likely just a way to get R&D funding for something they actually want to do, like improved automation for a manned ship. This is an FP7 project, after all. It's all supposed to be blue-sky (blue-ocean?) stuff.

The news article here is likely to be one of the very few actual outputs of the project - it's called "dissemination".

Re:What do the humans actually do on a ship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355343)

But other than piloting, what else do humans do, and how automatable is it?

Generally the employees on a ship are divided into officers and crew. The officers include the captain, first mate, and second mate. Also the officers include the engineering department, with a chief engineer, second engineer, and third engineer. Among the crew, there are a bunch of seamen (perhaps 5 or more of them). There is also a steward and a cook.

Yup. Norwegian officers and Pakistani crew, almost without exception. I grew up in a small town with big ships.

Ask someone in the Navy about maintenance ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 5 months ago | (#46355035)

For example, how often do people have to repair ships while under way?

Find someone who served in the Navy and ask them how much time is spent scraping and painting, wiping and oiling. Funny how that never makes it into TV commercials, well except for the Saturday Night Live spoof of a Navy commercial in the 70s.

Re:Ask someone in the Navy about maintenance ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355267)

Find someone who served in the Navy and ask them how much time is spent [...] wiping and oiling

Oh, hello sailor.

And can ignore... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354623)

And can ignore pesky mayday calls(at best relay) unless they have automatic human assistance, rations, medical stuff on board. It's handy having humans out there in emergencies imo.
 

Re:And can ignore... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#46354757)

And can ignore pesky mayday calls(at best relay) unless they have automatic human assistance, rations, medical stuff on board. It's handy having humans out there in emergencies imo.

I suspect that no shipping company spokesperson, or cargo ship supplier, would get within a mile of a live mic while saying so; but do you think they'd shed too many tears if tragically certain sorts of (expensive, delay-inducing, largely unrewarding) rescue missions were simply no longer within their capabilities?

put the ships' ballasts under manual control (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354627)

There's no such thing anymore, Duke. These ships are totally computerized. They rely on satellite navigation, which links them to our network, and the virus, wherever they are in the world.

Bandwidth (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 5 months ago | (#46354673)

Are they planning to launch a series of satellites for this?

Anyone who has used a satellite uplink for the web can tell you that the bandwidth is oversold, and if you even try to stream video you get nailed by the FUP (fair use policy). It drops you to pre 56k modem speeds.

For a 360 panoramic with control and command monitored 24/7 you are looking at a lot of bandwidth streamed to space (or very long cables) to make it work.

It's kinda surprising that this would even be looked at as feasible.

Re:Bandwidth (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354749)

One image per 5 minutes is probably more than enough for virtually all ships, since they move so slowly, and since there's no point in breaking for something you detect faster than that. Once something interesting shows up, you increase the update frequency to 1 image per minute, and so on until you reach real-time streaming. Also, since most of the sea isn't changing, you can also filter out almost all of the picture when the update is sent.

You could even trigger the change in update frequency with sensors, such as radar, sonar or infra red (for pirates).

I bet someone has already patented this obvious answer...

Re:Bandwidth (4, Funny)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 5 months ago | (#46354777)

It's awesome to know that nothing will ever go wrong in five minutes.

Altho, it's amazing that all captains who had at least five minutes to respond to everything ever lost a ship.

It's going to be awesome to have the best new captains who can respond to everything with five minute breaks during their shift! Thank you for your insight! You are exactly what I expect from anon cowards! I bow to your creativity!

Re:Bandwidth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355485)

You seem to think that these ships can do any kind of maneuvering within 5 minutes time. They can't. Any action done on the bridge will have a latency of minutes.

Re:Bandwidth (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#46355333)

since most of the sea isn't changing,

You must be stranger to these parts.

Welcome, Strange Alien, and what planet do you hail from? Here on Earth, what any human can see from the deck of any boat on any ocean at almost any time is the most constantly changing visual in human experience. Never is any part of that surface not in motion.

Re:Bandwidth (1)

floobedy (3470583) | about 5 months ago | (#46354877)

In the article they say that drone ships will eventually be commanded by captains on the land.

However, the article includes a CGI picture of a convoy of containerships. I'm guessing the idea might be to have a convoy of drone ships, where a single captain controls 6 different ships in a convoy. Maybe that would be the first iteration, with land-based control coming later.

Re:Bandwidth (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 5 months ago | (#46354943)

Anyone who has used a satellite uplink for the web can tell you that the bandwidth is oversold, and if you even try to stream video you get nailed by the FUP (fair use policy).

That is what you get for buying cheap "broadband" services. Major TV networks have been doing outside broadcast over satellite uplinks for years.

Re: Bandwidth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355077)

I'm sure they will be simi-autonomous, like mars rovers or DARPA challenge vehicles... Only needing a series of waypoints to find there own way. That could be achieved via an LF or VLF radio link, cheaply. If thought is put into it, a surprising amount of data can be sent over so called "slow" links. So much bandwidth and memory is wasted nowadays, just ask an 68HC11 or Z80 embedded developer... Can't wait for a 12 year old to hack one though that'll be interesting!

Arrrg, heirrrr I come, mateys! (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | about 5 months ago | (#46354693)

It's like they're inviting pirates to come aboard and have a little look around. And it would be pretty cool to camp out on a Chinese drone cargo ship as you cross the Pacific. Will this herald the rise of intercontinental hobos?

Re:Arrrg, heirrrr I come, mateys! (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 5 months ago | (#46354973)

Will this herald the rise of intercontinental hobos?

Now that might be a really entertaining way to spend my retirement. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

Laws would have to be changed (5, Interesting)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 5 months ago | (#46354717)

If someone boards an unmanned drone ship, wouldn't they be able to claim the ship as salvage and sell the contents?

Re:Laws would have to be changed (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355375)

Absolutely!

Also, international law requires that every ship continuously maintains a "proper" watch by all possible means while at underway. Further, all ships are required to render assistance to any ship or crew in distress. An unmanned ship would by its very nature be unable to maintain a watch 24/7 or pull an injured crew from a liferaft.

Re:Laws would have to be changed (1)

sociocapitalist (2471722) | about 5 months ago | (#46355615)

If someone boards an unmanned drone ship, wouldn't they be able to claim the ship as salvage and sell the contents?

Presumably they would have to get past whatever automated or semi-automated defenses the ship would have.

Very little benefit (4, Interesting)

floobedy (3470583) | about 5 months ago | (#46354779)

Drone ships would have very little benefit compared to ships of today, and would save very little labor. That's because crew sizes are already negligible on modern ships. Ships require very little labor for their operation. For example, a massive containership like the Maersk Triple-E might carry 15,000 containers (equivalent to about 7,000 tractor-trailer truckloads) while having a crew of 15, in three shifts. At any one time, there are 5 people transporting 7,000 tractor-trailer truckloads of cargo. If we reduced those jobs, it would make very little difference to costs or anything else.

Bear in mind that three of the 15 positions are the engineering staff who are frequently performing physical operations on a massive engine. Those jobs will not go away by having a single captain for multiple ships.

The number of jobs on a ship is decreasing every year anyway, as ships gradually grow larger. Larger ships generally do not have larger crews, so the amount of labor per unit of cargo keeps dropping anyway. Large containerships today carry more than twice the cargo of ships from 20 years ago, while crew sizes have not grown, so the amount of labor per unit of cargo has dropped by half and continues dropping.

Labor costs are already an extremely small fraction of the costs of operating a ship. It would make little difference to reduce labor costs further.

Re:Very little benefit (5, Interesting)

floobedy (3470583) | about 5 months ago | (#46354837)

I should also point out that the statistics mentioned in the article are incorrect. From the article:

Crew costs of $3,299 a day account for about 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large container ship, according to Moore Stephens LLP, an industry accountant and consultant.

A modern containership can cost $200 million, and can consume 300 tons of bunker fuel per day. Thus, the fuel costs are over $100,000 per day, and the costs of the purchase of the ship are over $50,000 per day.

Thus, crew costs are more like 2% of all costs, and not 44% as the quotation indicates.

The only way to arrive at the 44% figure is if you break down containership costs into capital costs (the cost of the ship), bunker costs (fuel), and operating costs (not including fuel). This kind of breakdown is commonly done. If you break things down in this way, "operating costs" are generally about 10% of the total cost of running the ship, and labor costs would be 44% of that ~10%. Thus, labor costs altogether are a few percent of the cost of running a ship.

The article does not spell this out, and gives a mistaken impression.

Re:Very little benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355111)

Heavy industry usually has payback in smaller investments in less than couple years...
so if sailorbots would cost for example 1500$ per day they would go for it without blink...
regardless of how tiny fraction it is in total expenses...

Re: Very little benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355141)

Hey, when someone can stuff a couple of extra thou in their pocket, that's all that matters. Humans are the evil cost that infects all business, at least that's the way a business man looks at it... The economy is supposed to provide a better way of life for all, not make the corrupt select few fantasticly wealthy at the expense of all else. We have lost the meaning of life somewhere along the way!

and what about the welfare for the people automate (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#46354817)

and what about the welfare for the people automated out of there jobs?

Or will just be build more prisons to hold them (they do cover some things that the ER does not) USA only other places have better Health Care systems.

what about the person who has nothing to lose by makeing the ships crash or getting a big pay day to call it off?

Re: and what about the welfare for the people auto (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354893)

You really hate washing machines and tractors too? How much human work is lost because of machines?

Re: and what about the welfare for the people auto (4, Interesting)

pitchpipe (708843) | about 5 months ago | (#46355003)

You really hate washing machines and tractors too? How much human work is lost because of machines?

Some ... for now. What happens when all of the ~4,000,000 truck drivers in the US are out of a job due to automation. Oh, they'll go to work fixing robots.Mmm hmm. As someone who has been doing controls systems engineering for the last 10 years, I can tell you that these systems are getting better all of the time. I used to get calls at night and on weekends a lot. Now, very few calls. The hardware and software tools and upgrades make it so that the system is very robust. Now, very few calls.

And those truck drivers? Well, I can tell you that the electrical technician's (we have about the same amount as we did 10 years ago) workload has also decreased. Motor brushes are going away. Bearings are becoming sealed, or automated grease systems installed. Breakers: now know when they are able to trip the load, they can isolate the load to the least affected area, and they can minimize the damage because they are so fast. Things last longer because of materials engineering and computer modelling. These guys just don't have that much to do anymore (Kaizen boards, and PRTs notwithstanding, that shit is just make-work).

And really, have you met many truck drivers? Some are very intelligent, but the vast majority have a boring mindless job for a reason.

Take automated cars for instance: Taxicab drivers out of a job. But not only that. Maybe I and my neighbors sign up for a service where a self driving car is called up and arrives where you are in a matter of minutes. I'm not going to buy another car, that's just a waste of money. Also, less cars on the road because they are operating all of the time. Think about how much time your car just sits there. (There's a job at Ford that I've contemplated applying for, but this gives me pause.) And then, less accidents. Bye bye insurance middleman. Bye bye auto body repair guy.Oh yeah, don't forget to apply for a job fixing robots. Bye bye garages. I'm sure our houses will just become bigger.

I could keep typing along these lines, but maybe you could put your mind to this line of reasoning and come up with many more examples. Seriously, the near term future is vastly different than what we've been experiencing. But in the long term, that's a good thing. And the long term future is radically different.

Re:and what about the welfare for the people autom (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 5 months ago | (#46355005)

and what about the welfare for the people automated out of there jobs?

They're smart people with transferable skills. They can find other jobs.

Re:and what about the welfare for the people autom (1)

jcr (53032) | about 5 months ago | (#46355517)

and what about the welfare for the people automated out of there jobs?

In 1900, about 80% of the people in the USA worked on farms. Today, it's more like 4% or less. They found other work.

-jcr

No doubt somebody's pleased (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354833)

The Somali's will be having a field day, the crews that are layed off not so much....

Re:No doubt somebody's pleased (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 5 months ago | (#46354969)

I would think no crew would make life harder for the pirates. Currently they can take the crew hostage which means they can force (at gunpoint) the crew to tell them how to operate the ship, and it also means that attempting to recover the ship by force puts the crews life at risk.

With a crewless ship I'd it would be much harder for the pirates to take control of the ship and much easier for a recovery team to take it back off them without getting any "good guys" killed.

Re:No doubt somebody's pleased (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#46355181)

The pirates would also have no way of controlling the ship. They'd just be along for the ride while the coastguard waits for them to sail past.

All they could do is disable it. With no way to easily take any cargo either.

Re:No doubt somebody's pleased (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 5 months ago | (#46354981)

I think you left out a word---the Somali's what? And to which Somali do you refer? (Last I heard there were quite a few of them.)

This is not the future my mother warned me about.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46354967)

If we stay the course, we are dead! WE ARE ALL DEAD!

Planning sex drone (0)

SpaghettiPattern (609814) | about 5 months ago | (#46355075)

I for one am planning a sex drone. Initially it will enable me to entertain the SO not only better but I will also be able to consume more ads. Eventually I expect the SO to follow my example and the drones will have superhuman sex which occasionally we will witness in awe. But we will double our capacity to consume ads. I vaguely get the feeling this droning makes me a bit of a tactic coward. Ah well, it all is in the name of cheerful progress I guess.

Why? (2)

Animats (122034) | about 5 months ago | (#46355083)

I don't see a big win here. It doesn't save that much labor. If it allowed using more small ships instead of giant ones, it might be worth something, but the economies of scale for post-Panamax container ships aren't really related to crew size.

Still, automated operations at ports have come a long way. Several big ports use big automated guided vehicles for container movement, and many container cranes are now fully automated. See this video [youtube.com] for a modern port operation.

Re:Why? (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#46355175)

According to TFA it allows 5% more cargo capacity and 12 - 15% less fuel because there is no bridge or living quarters, no food stores, no toilets, no air conditioning.

Castaways (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355319)

Castaways will never be pick up from now on.

Well, yeah, automation sounds nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46355327)

But if the crew and even the captain can "remote in" to run the ship that means that they managed to build a perfect ship that won't need 24h maintenance, right?
I always thought the role of the whole crew was to take care care of the myriad of things that need constant attention a very large ship that is composed of thousands of subsystems, each with it's own weakness and degree of wear.
So how does adding a glorified RC module help here?

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