Welcome to the Age of Autonomous Drone Ships

The future includes smart screens, holographic systems, and (of course) drone ships.

3. 23. 16 by Todd Jaquith
Image by Rolls-Royce

Sailing Into the Future

On Tuesday, Rolls-Royce—a name that is more famous for luxury cars than maritime contributions—rolled out a slick new video detailing a number of projected innovations in containerized shipping. The company hopes to someday make these innovations a reality, and if they do, it will mean a revolution in the way we ship goods across the seas.

In the film and pictures released by the company, we see a team of impossibly good-looking young coffee-drinking model types going about the business of controlling and monitoring seagoing vessels from the comfort of a shore-based, remote operations center—what Rolls-Royce calls the “oX operator experience concept.”

Check it out in the video below:

The goal for Rolls-Royce is to incrementally evolve their “ship intelligence” program, by developing increased ship-to-shore connectivity, automating as much of ship operations as is safely possible, and eventually (in the longer term) creating a fleet of autonomous ships.


Overseas Trade in the 21st Century

The research—which was undertaken as a collaboration between Rolls-Royce, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the Tampere Unit for Computer-Human Interaction (TAUCHI)—seeks not to replace human operators altogether, but to streamline containerized shipping, reduce unnecessary personnel, and just generally make the process that much better.

“We’re living in an ever-changing world where unmanned and remote-controlled transportation systems will become a common feature of human life,” observes Iiro Lindborg, general manager at Rolls-Royce for Remote and Autonomous Operations.

“They offer unprecedented flexibility and operational efficiency. Our research aims to understand the human factors involved in monitoring and operating ships remotely. It identifies ways crews ashore can use tools to get a realistic feel for what is happening at sea.”

Safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness are the cornerstones of Rolls-Royce’s vision for the future—it will mean circumventing piracy, reducing the costs of training and maintaining crews, and automating containerized shipping from loading and unloading containers at the docks, to drone ship transportation on the open seas, and even guiding vessels into harbor.


But it means another nail in the coffin of that old-time romance of the seas.

A glimpse of a remote operations center of the future. Credit: Rolls-Royce

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