OPINION: Perspective of a merchant seaman towards autonomous vessels

Autonomous ships

For a merchant seaman, the panorama of autonomous vessels has ceased to be fiction. Therefore, we share today the perspectives, research and opinion of an engineer and merchant seaman regarding one of the most controversial issues of the maritime industry worldwide.

According to Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, by the end of 2019 the autonomous vehicles (cars) will be in the market. We already see drones designed by the company Ehang that will be used as a taxi to transport people up to 50 km away in Dubai. With all this, when will the autonomous vessels be ready?

In a first stage, the Revolt project is detailed. Then, we talked about the MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation Through Intelligence in Networks) project and, finally, I expressed some characteristics of the projections that have regarding the decrease of jobs in the United States.

Starting, we have the project Revolt, of DNV GL. It is a vessel with a load capacity of 10 20-foot containers, designed for an estimated speed of 6 knots. This can be built with existing technology. However, researchers say it is a vision of the future and the technology is expected to mature a little more.

Another example is the MUNIN. It is a bulk carrier project that is being designed and evaluated to be manufactured as an autonomous vessel. Part of the systems and elements that are considered by the team that works are the following: An advanced sensor module, an autonomous navigation system, a stand-alone and monitero machine for a control system, a control center on the ground, an operator from the ground control center, an engineer from the ground control center and a situational room from the ground control center. All of the above is part of the structure and design that are being worked on to create the new maritime transport system. In this case, the decrease in labor costs, fuel consumption are detailed and it is considered that we have safer ships with less environmental impact.

It seems a surreal, but we see how technology advances at gigantic steps. Researchers estimate that in the next 20 years the labor market in the United States will be reduced by 48% by automation and artificial intelligence. We already see how Chatbots currently replace online customer service workers. The Chatbot is a type of artificial intelligence that is already bearing fruit and that every day is better doing it because it is capable of training itself.

Before all this, the autonomous ships already work. We can see the Energy Observer operating, as well as other examples. However, the industry requires a little more time, but how long are we talking about? There is no concrete answer like that offered by Elon Musk regarding autonomous cars. However, I would be thinking of the next 5 or 10 years to start seeing autonomous vessels coming into operation in the commercial sector. With all this, we see that the labor structure of the merchant seaman changes completely and the works are focused more on technology and on land positions as established in the research carried out by the MUNIN project entitled “Research in Maritime Autonomous Systems Project Results and Technology Potentials “. hopefully as mechant seamen, we can move forward in a new direction and evolve towards these new changes and we do not get unemployed because of the wave of technology that is coming.

By: Raúl Goncalves Da Silva – Engineer and merchant seaman

Source Unmaned ships DNV GL

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