Autonomous ships and underwater vessels will rule the seas by 2030

By 2030 the seas will be dominated by autonomous underwater and on-surface vessels, a new report has said.

The report, conducted by academic researchers and those from commercial companies, said that autonomous systems will become more important for military operations, such as mine detection, but also for humanitarian aid missions.

But it warned that while there would be many of the intelligent systems in place, a lot of ships and vessels that would be used by 2030 have already been commissioned so may not be fully autonomous.

“Autonomous systems will play an increasingly important role in future naval systems” said the report by Southampton University, in the UK, Lloyd’s Register and QinetiQ.

“They will be operating above, on and below the surface of the sea, will drive innovative concepts for conducting naval operations, and will offer the potential to radically change the nature of maritime security.

“However, many of the naval vessels in service by 2030 will have been designed without these concepts in mind. The principal challenge will therefore be the integration of autonomous systems into current force structures and vessels.”
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Researchers looked at 56 technologies and then focused on 18 specific areas that they believed would have the most impact.

The picture painted by the researchers is that commercial ships will be largely impacted by robotics, sensors, big data, new power sources, construction and communication technologies. It went on to say that they “are transformational in nature when used individually and when combined.”

While there will be regulatory, economic, and more challenges to be overcome in the creation of autonomous ships the report does appear to align with others that have looked at using drones on the sea.

Last year a European Union-funded research project concluded that automated cargo ships will be able to set sail by around 2035. The 2014 report said that many of the technologies already exist and need to be integrated into new ships which are being created.

Other developments in the area also include a robot that is able to inspect ships to inspect them for safety. The robot, which is set to soon be used onboard ships, will check ballast water tanks for any possible damage.

An autonomous robot that’s able to kill starfish that are damaging the Great Barrier Reef, is also set to be in use by the end of the year.

ship2Away from commercial shipping and vessels there will also be dramatic changes in the highly funded military shipping areas.

The researchers, unsurprisingly, say that cyber and electronic warfare tech will continue to develop at a fast pace, which is likely to be quicker than that in the commercial sector.

It is claimed that the growth of autonomous vehicles, robots, and other devices in other areas of life will make it more acceptable to have autonomously operating ships.

“Autonomy will be driven by applications and experiences outside of the naval arena; although, ethical issues about the degree of autonomy, especially for any weapon-carrying systems, will continue to be an concern for the general public and governments,” the report says.

The full report, Global Marine Technology Trends 2030, can be downloaded here.

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