Future shipping captains may work on dry ground. Rolls-Royce has invested in designs for unmanned cargo ships and remote control centers to operate them.
Bloomberg’s Isaac Arnsdorf reported that the U.K-based maker of engines and turbines has built a virtual reality prototype to simulate a ship’s bridge in Norway. However, multiple experts (engineers, insurers, shipping companies, union reps, etc.) he questioned concluded that the concept was neither safe nor cost-effective.
The advantages of a crewless design are fuel efficiency, lower operating costs, and more space for cargo. A cost benefit calculation by the safety certification company DNV GL wasn’t favorable, and its expert told Bloomberg that there are no international standards for unmanned vessels. Drone ships are a long way out.
Incremental improvements to efficiency are more likely in the form of cleaner diesel, natural gas, or biofuels and their byproducts. Other ideas include reinventing shipping containers to use less space, and mimicking nature to reduce drag. Some prototype ocean-going vessels incorporate sails. Some entrepreneurs in the air freight industry are even seriously considering resurrecting dirigibles as an alternative to cargo aircraft.