Future of ships


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Your Norwegian friend is a realist and do not think that commercial crewless ships will be crossing oceans in the next decade or more, which I have stated repeatedly.

It is not because the technology to do so isn’t available, but because it will take at least that long to change the laws, rules and regulations to allow that to happen.

Yes I do think that short sea shipping within restricted areas will happen within that time though. I also think it will happen first in Scandinavia, followed by Europe, China and Japan.

As for US mariners; you should feel safe that there will still be old and obsolete ships to serve on. There are no signs that will change in the foreseeable future.





How complicated can driving a train be? It runs on rails using technology over a hundred years old! If ever there was a lower hanging fruit for autonomous operation then an engineer-free train I don’t know what it would be. And yet from Japan to Europe to the United States the fright trains and passenger trains still operate with on-board human engineers.

Sure, you can find a light rail here and there without drivers. But even some of Singapore’s MRT lines still have drivers. (And it’s not as if their MRT is a challenging environment for automation. Many basement model train aficionados have more complex system environments then Sing MRT.)

All this autonomous ship hysteria must be familiar to days past when every town would have fossil-free nuclear power plants, cars would fly, and travel between continents would be on plush aircraft at twice the speed of sound.

Which do you think will happen last?

  1. Commercial flights from New York to Los Angeles will take less than two hours.

  2. Polio will be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

  3. Autonomous ships over 16,000 GRT will outnumber manned ships over 16,000 GRT.

  4. You and I will both be dead.


Not only MRT trains are operated driverless.
Large mining operations are getting close to autonomous operation:

This happens even in Australia, where the Unions are strong and sometimes militant.


We still have pilots because of human comfort.
If I’m in one of these examples of human inventiveness I take comfort in the thought that the guy in the pointy end is just as keen to get his or her arse back on the deck as I am.


And whenever there is an accident, incident or a near miss, the question of whether the Pilot is actually interested in getting there alive is raised by somebody, somewhere, somehow.


I should have typed “probably” before just as keen… but then I’m an optimist.


So you are an optimist, which is good.
I’m a realist, but with an optimistic streak.


Looks like the US is getting in on the act of developing autonomous ships for ocean crossings as well:


We have a lot of arguments against crewless/autonomous ships here, some of them well founded and logical, some less so.

But what are the arguments for such ships, aside from “good for the Owners”??

One recurring statement in even the Maritime press and accident reports are that “80% of all accidents at sea is caused by human error”. By removing humans from the ships there should thus be 80% fewer accidents, right?

OK, so human errors may be done by by those who design and build the ships, not to mention the creators of the software that operate them, or the shorebased personnel that control them from afar.

Yes, but at least there will not be anybody in harms way on board such ships and no need to risk the life of rescuers to save them. Ships and cargo can be insured and replaced.

But for the foreseeable future there will be manned vessels, wafis and other “uncontrollable” things on the oceans that could cause accidents.

That is a major problem that will be with us for a long time, but may not cause any more accidents the what is happening when ALL parties are manned by humans.

Idiots that do not know or care about rules and regulations will not be in much more danger of being hit by a autonomous ships than they are today. The answer to save them is education, education, education.


Good news: just got job on autonomous ship as interim chief
Bad news: this is the new third


Here he is on a bad day ashore.


Thanks for that. I’ve already got my CCM no. 2 lie, 3/4” curve hockey stick ready for morning meetings in the ECR. Seriously though we are all dead aren’t we?


Forty years ago a shopping mall near where I grew up inaugurated a driverless tram that moved shoppers between mall wings. Twenty-Five years later Singapore inaugurated their first driverless tram. Why did it take so long to catch on?

As I’ve said before, driverless trains and planes have been technologically possible for decades. Yet for decades we’ve kept using human engineers and pilots. But why? Paying a driver even minimum wage is an operating expense that could be eliminated.

I propose its because the profit differential between human and humanless operation wasn’t worth the trouble.

Some think its because the technology was immature. But how much technology would be required to replace a train engineer with a remote operator? My local shopping mall did it in the 1970s. Even remote operation of airplanes on overland routes was possible by the 1960s.

Others think it was regulations and laws that were the roadblock. But laws are flexible and can take any shape as long as someone with enough resources wants to shape them.

A strong sounding argument is that the public would be uncomfortable with humanless operation of passenger trains and planes. But people can be manipulated into accepting or demanding almost anything if someone with enough resources wants to change public perception.

The real reason we haven’t had driverless or autonomous trains or planes is because the profit between human and humanless was insignificant against the trouble and risk such that no one has cared enough to make it happen. So why is there suddenly an apparent desire now to autonomization?

Cars and trucks.

There are a billion cars in the world. Those get replaced roughly every eight years. Up until now a car was profitable to the manufacturer when they are sold via production and financing. After that a bunch of side businesses take a bit here and there, say, from repair or customization.

The autonomous car now promises to turn that on its head. Its the goal of developers and manufacturers to not put an autonomous car in every garage. You read that right. They don’t want you to buy your own autonomous car. They want you to buy a subscription to use their fleet of autonomous cars. They want to sell you, the captive audience, to be marketed to advertisers.

They will use economies of scale to reduce operation costs. They will profit from the assembly plant to the recycling yard. Autonomous cars will be a cheap, convenient, safe and an environmentally friendly deal for us and a steady revenue stream for them. Only a rich fool will own his or her own car - eventually it will be illegal.

GM President Dan Ammann told investors the lifetime revenue generation of one of its autonomous cars could eventually be “several hundred thousands of dollars.” Compare that to the $30,000 on average that GM collects today for one of its vehicles, mostly derived from the initial sale.

That is why autonomous cars are worth the trouble. Even if ‘several hundred thousand dollars’ is hyperbole it still represents a massive profit differential. Multiply that by even a fraction of a billion cars and you’ll have strong incentive to develop technology, manipulate lawmakers and brainwash the public into demanding something they don’t need.

(Don’t need?! But… but… but… Safety! Environment! Don’t be such a sheep: its effective marketing.)

Now, back to ships. I ask you to think about what the profit differential between a human verses humanless ship is. Say you replace a ship’s crew of Third World villagers… I mean, shithole squatters… oops, developing nation mariners. Replace them, their low pay and the galleys and toilets that sustain them. In their place you’ll add the costs of maintainers to maintain and repair equipment in port, port time to repair it, lawyers and lobbyists to buy and bribe lawmakers the world over, and finally the public relations drive to brainwash the public that humanless ships are a benefit to their safety and the environment. (Good luck with the last one!)

Is the profit differential there? Will someone important enough make enough to make it worth the trouble? Will the differential be an order of difference as in the automotive industry or are we talking mere percentages? Won’t it just be cheaper and less trouble to replace First and Second World mariners with developing nation mariners?

There will be demonstration programs in Scandinavia and others just like there were in that shopping mall in Hawaii. That doesn’t mean autonomous systems will cause a wave of job losses. Outsourcing and re-flagging will still be the great risk to our jobs.


Yup - spot on DeckApe. The Overton window doing its thing.


@DeckApe see today’s NYT section B page 1 “GM wants driverless cars in use in 2019” by Neal Boudette.

They are petitioning DOT to allow fully autonomous vehicles (no steering wheel or pedals) in a commercial ride hailing service next year. As in you suggested not for sale / don’t own it.


Singapore does not have trams in operation.

There is the MRT system, which is similar to the NYC Metro, or London Tube, only cleaner, safer and more punctual.

This connect with the LRT systems for local transport within neighbourhoods to make for a seamless public transport system that actually function for the people of Singapore, not as a source of income for shareholders, executives and overpaid managers.

The first MRT line in Singapore was completed in 1987 (East West Line) Although there was an Operator on each train, it was largely computer controlled operation, but only because the public was not ready for it yet.

The first driverless line was the North East Line, which opened in 2003.

Today there are a network of MRT and LRT lines and the system is still being expanded and coordinated with other means of public transport to form the best such network in any major city.

From 1994 until I left Singapore in 2016 I did not own a car, as the public transport system, incl. taxies, could meet my transport needs at far less cost and hazel than using your own car. (No parking problem and no worries about having a second, or third beer when out on town)

Sounds like an utopia to you maybe, but it is a reality in Singapore.

An ode to the Singapore MRT:

The Singapore MRT & LRT System:


Driverless trains in all parts of the world all have a couple of common features:
They all have tracks that are inaccessible to the public, there are no such things as level crossings.
The station platforms have doors which line up with the doors on the train in much the same way as an elevator does in a building. The train becomes in essence a horizontal elevator.
To own a car in Singapore is difficult and expensive, the guy giving his Ferrari a blip a couple of months ago must of had an awesome bank account and not a lot of commonsense and it is doubtful if he ever made it out of 1st gear.
No electric car has a factory fitted tow bar so if fish had a vote I could see them voting for autonomous vehicles.