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Rolls-Royce will build cargo ships equipped with state-of-the art VR and monitoring drones aboard, both designed to detect issues with more accuracy than a human ever could.

There are several obvious monetary benefits to this. First of all, not needing a living crew onboard means Rolls-Royce can replace living quarters with more cargo space – and also not pay the wages of the crew.

Ships without the need for humans on deck would be safer too, meaning they could sail through more adverse weather conditions and also defend its cargo against pirates without any regard for the safety of the onboard crew. A ship’s turnaround from docking could be made a lot more efficient by erasing the need for rest or recruitment.

One final piece of bad news for sailors: these ships are being designed so that one or two people can manage a whole fleet of ships a the same time, only reacting to issues when needed.

Rolls-Royce says the project has the support of its current shipowner and operator customers. It’s already testing the system aboard the Finferries 65-metre double-ended ferry, which operates between Korpo and Houtskär.

Speaking at the Symposium Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce, Vice President of Innovation – Marine, said: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist.

The AAWA project is testing sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions in Finland and has created a simulated autonomous ship control system which allows the behaviour of the complete communication system to be explored. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.”