Here are some things I’ve been considering about drone ships
I agree with those posters who observed that drone ships would be purpose-built from the keel up, and will look very odd to the average Old Salt. Similarly, they may cause changes to Admiralty law.
I live in Puget Sound. No way is a large drone ship going to enter the Salish Sea without a pilot aboard. The public will demand a human override aboard, because of environmental concerns,. Will this be the case for a fraction of the world’s port, most of them, or all of them? My guess is more rather than less. So bar pilots will still have a job.
Which brings up technical problems of ships’ control systems. Right now, a pilot coming aboard needs only a certain minimum knowledge about the ships’ controls, and the operation of the nav electronics. Right now, after boarding, the pilot studies the maneuvering characteristics card, and asks the ship’s officers about the peculiarities of their particular ship. Today’s pilot is a specialist in local navigation and maneuvering. The ship’s own officers are the specialists in wheelhouse equipment. The pilot of today never touches the wheel/jogstick or throttle/EOT. The deck watch does that for him. If the pilot has a question about a particular ARPA radar, he can ask the captain or mate to show him “where the knob is”.
Not so the marine pilot of the future. He or she will be the sole person aboard ship. He or she must be able to override the remote control of a drone ship and steer that ship to safety as soon as he or she is aboard, which means that the marine pilot must be intimately familiar with the layout and actuation of ships controls and electronics, despite never having been on that ship before. Which can only mean that the type of-, placement of-, and actuation of all bridge equipment must be standardized between all drone ships, or at least no more than a couple of three variations (Furuno system versus a Navico System, etc.)
Presently most ships are built as one-offs. There is little standardization regarding the placement and actuation of ship controls and nav electronics from bridge to bridge. Which means there is always a learning curve when you take over a another vessel. Remember how long it took you to learn all those alarms in the dark on your present wheelhouse? You had many watches to learn, and a captain to call if you couldn’t find the watch alarm. A future marine pilot has to know what all of the alarms mean before he or she even steps foot on the drone ship. So, in the drone ship of the future, the wheelhouse will remind us more of an aircraft cockpit than a bridge. The placement and actuation of controls/electronics would be standardized between ships, so any pilot anywhere in the world would be able to take control of any ship upon boarding.
Cockpit standardization wouldn’t be enough, because different ships maneuver differently. There would be an industry providing costly simulation training for those drone ship pilots, particular to each ship. When each drone is launched some IMO standard would require a battery of sea trials be conducted, aimed at establishing maneuvering characteristics for the new vessel, in digital form. These would be downloaded into a simulator by a training vendor. Pilots would then train on the simulator before the real drone ship even enters port, learning how to handle that particular vessel in any emergency.
Would there be a similar requirement for a chief engineer to board with the pilot, to directly oversee a standardized ECR on the drone ship? To be able to light-off standardized IMO-guideline compliant auxiliaries, if needed? (In my mind’s eye I see each person boarding the ship with a lunch box and a portable toilet; no food aboard ship,and would anyone bother to put a MSD on a ship with no crew?)
Legal considerations (I think someone covered this already, maybe KC): right now a marine pilot is not responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel. The captain is. But on a drone ship with no captain aboard? If the ship runs aground shoreward of the seabuoy would the pilot be at fault, or the drone captain sitting in Mumbai? Or would the software engineers be guilty, or the ship owners? If a drone ship with a marine pilot aboard collided with a conventional ship which body of laws would take precedence, drone law, or old Admiralty law, or consumer protection law (because of the software involved)?
I think cajaya’s comment from some months ago still hangs out there: a drone tanker or LNG would be a tempting target for a hacker.
Escort tugs: Right now a tanker entering the Salish Sea must have an escort tug at all times. With drone ships I believe they will be required for ANY vessel over a certain size. Environmental concerns are just too high to allow enormous vessels into sensitive waters without human checks and balances. So the tug industry should do well.
Also, who ties up the ship and hooks up shore power? A little detail to be sure, but someone/ something has to do it, and automation doesn’t work well in this regard, unless the docking facilities are specially designed and built to standardized specifications that don’t exist now, guaranteeing implementation would be costly in the future. Even then, wind and snow will cause problems. So while the drone captain, pilot and tugs hold the vessel at the dock, someone has to go aboard and break out the lines from the self-tensioning winches, etc. If they’re smart the longshore unions will fight for this job. Because once container ships are automated much of the loading/unloading process may become automated also, and they’ll lose much of their work.
When self-driving cars become standardized they will drive themselves on and off car carriers like so many multi-colored sheep, with zero damage. That alone probably sells the idea of self-driving cars to car manufacturers, who, in the past at least, had a sizeable headache with longshoremen damaging cars in the process of unloading the ship.