Led by the efforts of U.K.-based engineering giant Rolls-Royce and a team of two Norwegian companies (Yara International and Kongsberg Gruppen), autonomous cargo ships should be setting sail on the world's trade lanes in the not-too-distant future.
Autonomous ships promise to make container shipping even more cost-effective. The two main and related benefits of introducing autonomous vessels to container shipping are cost and safety. Container shipping lines will be able to reduce personnel expenses and realize cost savings associated with accidents and insurance.
Yara International and Kongsberg Gruppen are currently developing an all-electric vessel – named the Yara Birkeland, which is expected to begin transporting cargo with the help of a small crew in late 2018. In 2019, the cargo ship will be remotely controlled as it makes the voyage, and in 2020, the ship should sail and dock itself.
By 2025, Rolls-Royce envisions that a remotely operated vessel will be sailing in international waters. By 2035, the company believes that fully autonomous ocean-going vessels will be plying the world's trade routes in abundant numbers.