While it may seem that Rolls-Royce is purely a luxury car company, it has been cooking up something completely unexpected: remote-controlled cargo ships. The Rolls-Royce led Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) has presented its vision at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam of how remote and autonomous shipping can become a reality.

The company is working on virtual decks where land-based crews would control every aspect of the ship. Additionally, there will also be VR camera views and monitoring drones to spot issues humans cannot. Therefore, only requiring one human to steer several boats.

Autonomy promises many advantages such as mitigating the human factor in both crew error and the threat of piracy. Also the removal of crew quarters frees up more space for goods.

Part of the initiative has already arrived. One ship, the Stril Luna, has a smart Unified Bridge system in place for coordinating all its equipment. Rolls-Royce is aiming to launch the first remote-controlled cargo ships by 2020, then to have autonomous fleets within two decades.

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