An engineer with Rolls Royce who’s working on self-driving ships says they’re likely to become a reality before self-driving cars, starting with ferries.
My colleagues and I at Rolls-Royce anticipate that the first commercial vessel to navigate entirely by itself could be a harbor tug or a ferry designed to carry cars the short distance across the mouth of a river or a fjord and that it or similar ships will be in commercial operation within the next few years. And we expect fully autonomous oceangoing cargo ships to be routinely plying the world’s seas in 10 or 15 years’ time.
What I’ve always wondered is, what about pirates? Wouldn’t self-driving ships be really vulnerable? He says no.
The threat posed by piracy to ships and their crews would also be reduced. That’s because uncrewed ships could be built so that they’d be very difficult to board on the high seas. Even if pirates got aboard, access to the controls could be made unavailable. Indeed, the computers in command could immobilize the ship or have it steam in a circle, making it relatively easy for naval authorities to reach it. Recapture would also be easier than is usually the case in such situations because there would be no crew held hostage. And without a captured crew to ransom, the target of the piracy is significantly less valuable.
I can see it now: a pirate ship appears on the horizon, and a convoy of robot ships and their drones immediately begin to steam in circles in a Busby Berkeley musical number, “I Only Have Eyes For You” blaring from their loudspeakers as they call in the authorities.
The reality, of course, would probably be closer to Gone in 60 Seconds; never underestimate the ability of thieves to adapt to a new mouse trap.