Future of ships


This big boys have been working on their Overton Window for some time now.


Not sure if the “Overton Window” theory applies here. The general public know little about shiping and things maritime and care even less.

IMO and Maritime Authorities are not swayed by public opinion, but they may be pressured by big business.
If so, it is still happening SLOOOWLY in most cases and most places.



So let’s count it up. From 2000-2016 the United States lost about 5 million manufacturing jobs. With these self driving cars, trucks, busses and ships we stand to loose another 3.5 million jobs.

Truck and delivery drivers: 2.4 million
Taxi, school and transit drivers: 1.0 million
Ship, ferry mates: not that many


I thought it was the Chinese and Mexicans that stole the manufacturing jobs, but now they are all going to come back?

So far the plan is for two trucks to be driverless, trailing closely behind one truck with a driver (Most likely a Sikh?)
I think Uber Drivers are in more immediate danger of loosing their job though.

Before autonomous ships becomes a major factor in US shipping most of the members of this forum will be retired. The younger members will have been retrained and operating ships from the comfort of a shore position.

You will read about it and see it on the Discovery Channel in a few years yes, but actually seeing one in US waters will take some time.


This job already exists it’s called operations coordinator.


I suppose I’m in a peevish mood this morning, coming off an episode of gout, but I do wish posters to this thread would stop conflating “autonomous” with “drone.”

We used to own a housecleaning robot called a Roomba. It was autonomous. It navigated by bumping into things (not recommended for ships). The weapons system equivalent is “fire and forget.”

I race radio control sailboats. My sailboat is a drone. It only has autonomy in case of loss of signal, at which time it lets the sheets all the way out and locks hard right rudder so it will circle until retrieved.

Both autonomous vehicles and drones can be characterized as “unmanned,” but the systems engineering problems of each are radically different.

There, I feel better. Or maybe it’s because the steroids are starting to kick in :slight_smile:




Hope you feel better. Gout, or “Emperor’s Disease”, is no pleasure but that is the price you pay for good living, I suppose?? (I know, I have had a bit of it)

There have indeed been some confusion between “Autonomous”, “Drone” and “Remotely operated”, both here and in the media.

In the case of ships it will be developed in steps:
Step 1: Remotely controlled from a central control room, but with operator(s) on board.
Step 2: Autonomous operation, but with remote intervention as and when necessary. Still with operator(s) on board.
Step 3: Same as step 2. but nobody on board.

For Yara Birkeland it is expected that Step 3 will be reached in 2020. When this will be a reality for ocean crossings are anybody’s guess, but the legal problems are likely to be the limiting factor, rather than technical. (Unless miracle happens and agreement can be reached quickly)

“God bedring”


The third or fourth-generation Roomba had an enhanced navigation feature such that if it knew it was about to run into something it would slow down and run into it slowly.

Best of luck with the gout. I have a passing acquaintance with it, and that is more than sufficient for me.


You mean @cajaya? :bigsmile: You’re welcome guys… I’d have summoned DSD to google batteries for us, but he’s already in the thread.


Thanks for the kind words.

I presume the on-board operator interface will have two elements we put in the prototype JA37B autopilot (first operational digital fly-by-wire system):

a) The YOYO light. “YOYO” stands for “You’re On Your Own” That’s the robot telling you it’s given up.

b) The “Jesus” button. To be punched when the alternatives are taking over manual control or meeting Jesus.

On the JA37B the YOYO light lit when error checking had switched flight control over to the air data computer and was running very elementary control laws, essentially pilot full authority. The Jesus button kicked the system into YOYO mode. I left the project before the operational version (I was on the software verification team) so I don’t know what the operational software looked like. A few years ago I ran into an old SAAB engineer who told me the aircraft had flow 11 years without an in-flight emergency attributable to the computer so I guess we did a pretty good job. It was a real exercise in ultra-ultra-conservative engineering, the kind of thing that probably could never be done in today’s beancounter-driven world.

Also, I hope they have contingencies for the basic failure modes of a real-time control system: they either go down sane (error checking detects failure), go down dead (total loss of power) or go down crazy (malfunction not caught by error checking). Third one’s a bitch.




I obviously don’t know the detail of how these system will work, but as far as I understand the plan is not to have any manual controls per se (I.e. no Wheel house or Engine Control room)

The operators initially manning the Yara Birkeland will be housed in temporary container(s) and presumably take control through portable means. Whether that will be a laptop computer and internal WiFi, or some sort of “control box” connected by wires I don’t know.

In worst case they should at least be able to shut down all systems by hitting an ESD (Jesus button?) and call for help.

In autonomous mode the worst case scenario is where some unfriendly person/pirates gets on board and try to take “manual” control. This can be eliminated by not having any such possibilities (No manual controls)

Somebody hacking into the onboard computer, disrupting or diverting control from the Operating Centre is the other main concern. I 'm not sure how that will be solved, but certainly it is one of the main thing those who develop the systems are looking into VERY seriously.

As far as I know the bean counters are not in control of the development, which is largely funded by the EU and individual Governments, mainly in Europe, but also in China, Japan and Singapore to mention those most involved. (Google, I assume, are paid for their services and are not controlling any purse strings).

The main commercial player here in Europe is Rolls-Royce, Siemens and DNV-GL all with deep pockets. They are also involved with development in the other countries mentioned, together with major shipping companies like NYK and COSCO.

On the purely maritime aspect side I know for a fact that experienced mariners are involved, not just Engineers and Computer experts. At least here in Norway, where much of the development work is concentrated. (Actually “next door” to me)

Exiting time for some, scary for others. Luckily I’m only watching from the sideline, trying to stay informed.


Well, good luck to those guys, especially the poor blighters on board. So far this seems to fit the model of engineering progress as the search for ever more elaborate failure modes :slight_smile:




Well this particular ship (Yara Birkeland) will be electric powered, with batteries being charge while alongside at either end of a voyage counted in hours, not days. No diesel engines or fuel involved.

It will serve as a test bed for longer voyages by other autonomous ships later. By the time you see one crossing the Atlantic unmanned, all the system will be well tested and failure modes established.

When will that be?? I have no idea, but suspect it will take the doubters by surprise, scrambling to catch up.


Why didn’t they make this one all electric and autonomous?


Making it autonomous wouldn’t have been a bad idea, bearing in mind where it was going.




I would suggest granting access only to qualified personnel confirmed via retinal scan and well paid bad asses securing all access points to ‘ship command central’ with MP7s on fully automatic…


The three laws of insecurity:

  1. Insecurity exists.
  2. It cannot be destroyed.
  3. It can be moved around.

So where do you want yours?




Just like radioactivity in that regard.