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Autonomous and remotely-operated ships

Autonomous ships

Introduction

Interest in autonomous and remotely-controlled ships is growing fast. Enabled by recent developments in sensor technology, connectivity at sea, and analysis and decision support software and algorithms, the first commercial projects are ready for launch in the near future.

The field is a wide one, with many different automation applications and concepts that could benefit the maritime industry. From completely unmanned ships, to vessels remote-controlled from land-based virtual bridges, to support systems that warn the crew before a collision or help to optimize operations.

First steps in autonomous shipping

Autonomous shipping could offer a way to move cargo off the road and onto the sea, improving road congestion and lowering maintenance costs, while improving air quality and safety. These benefits have prompted many governments to look into autonomous concepts, with nations such as Finland, Japan, the USA, and Singapore conducting research and trials. 

In Norway, government agencies and industry bodies established the Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships (NFAS) to promote the concept of unmanned shipping. In addition, the Norwegian government turned the Trondheim Fjord into a test bed for autonomous ship trials.

Challenges in autonomous shipping

From the sensors on board, the reliability of machinery in an unmanned vessel, to the software which must be stable and cyber-secure, to national and international rules and regulations, there are many challenges that need to be addressed before this technology can be put into operation. DNV GL is working with all of the stakeholders in this new field to build a robust set of standards that will enable these new systems and technologies to reach the market and ensure that they are safely implemented.