The idea of creating AI controlled vehicles has been around for a while. We’re already working on smart cars and delivery drones, so why not ships? It comes at no surprise that companies that ship goods by sea are also looking into the concept of self-driving vessels. So Japanese shipping companies have enlisted the help of shipbuilders and engineers to explore the possibilities of unmanned ship travel – from predicting ship malfunctions, reducing possible maritime accidents and improving shipping efficiency.
Their idea is that an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system on ships would help plan for the shortest (thus more fuel efficient) and safest routes for travel. This would involve taking into consideration weather forecasts and any obstacle (like icebergs, other ships and other hazards) that lay along those routes, and rerouting accordingly, picking the next fastest routes to their destination. And all that without a soul on board. It seems like quite a feat, but considering what we already know about AI and how advanced the technology already is, this self-shipping concept may not be as far off as it seems.
In an effort to move this project forward, several Japanese shipping companies have allied and share costs and expertise to develop the AI technology and build self-manned ships. They hope to collectively build about 250 ships that could, in their estimate, make their maiden voyages by 2025. This enterprise is expected to cost well over hundreds of millions of dollars, but the company heads are confident that the money they will be saving in the long run (not just on fuel and speed, but on labor, too) will more than make up for their initial investment.
The Japanese are not the only ones interested in AI technology for marine deliveries. Rolls-Royce has announced last year that it was looking into creating remote controlled ships that could be ready in a few years (they are aiming for 2020, which is just around the corner, really), and Natilus is considering developing huge self-flying drones that could fly ship cargo across the ocean. With so many options for safer and more cost effective delivery methods, we are confident that at least one of them (if not all of them) will be successful in facilitating the delivery of goods across the globe.