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Rolls-Royce Teams With Intel to Develop Autonomous Cargo Ships

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【Summary】Without a crew, Rolls-Royce’s self-driving ships would be able to hold more cargo and navigate the seats without putting lives at risk.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Oct 22, 2018 8:15 AM PT
Rolls-Royce Teams With Intel to Develop Autonomous Cargo Ships
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Back in 2016, Rolls-Royce came out with an interesting idea to spread autonomous technology to machines besides its opulent cars: ships. Back then, the British marque's idea was to deploy cargo vessels that could work autonomously and via remote controls. Instead of having a crew onboard of the ship, Rolls-Royce envisioned a crew that would operate from land and keep humans out off harms way. 

Autonomous Ships Would Be Safer, More Efficient

The main advantage for having a crew-less ship is the ability to hold a lot more cargo. There's no need for living quarters, a kitchen, or a bridge for workers to navigate the vessel – just more available space for cargo. With rough weather, pirates, and human error, the ships would be safer too. 

Two years later and it looks like Rolls-Royce still hasn't given up on its dream to come out with autonomous ships. This time, though, the brand has announced a serious partner: Intel. Together, the two companies have introduced a serious ship as its first step toward unleashing driverless ships by 2025, with the launch of the company's Intelligent Awareness System earlier this year. 

The system, as The Verge claims, is made up of a lot of the same components you see on vehicles with semi-autonomous capabilities, including LiDAR and numerous cameras. While that sounds familiar, the system utilizes machine vision algorithms to look out for any potential obstacles. It will also send alerts to crew members on land. Intel's part of the deal will see Rolls-Royce use the company's 3D NAND solid-state drives and Xenon chips. 

"It's basically the eyes and ears of the ship," Kevin Daffey, Rolls-Royce's director of ship intelligence, told The Verge. "It's about highlighting hazards in real time." 

Intelligent Awareness system Rolls-Royce, Intel.jpg

Replacing Eyes And Ears With Machines

As the "eyes and ears" of the vessel, the Intelligent Awareness system eliminates the need for a traditional crew, while providing more usable data. As the outlet points out, a traditional ship has a crew around the entire machine with walkie-talkies that inform the captain of any hazards that pose a risk, especially in inclement weather. Instead of relying on humans, the system can automatically spot obstacles and replace humans by acting as a digital feed. 

"By implementing the LiDAR system, you get real-time accurate measurements of how far the ship is from its berth," said Daffey. "And if any other ship comes near, it sets off an alarm." 

This all sounds kind of like science fiction, but the system is already in place, being tested on ships around the world, including a ferry in Japan. While it's not a fully autonomous setup, The Verge claims that it's a step toward coming out with self-driving ships. Despite working on the system for years and getting help from a major company like Intel, Daffey believes that the companies, and others looking to do something similar, still face a few challenges.

"Within the next 18 months, to two years, we will see the first commercially operated remote-control vessels," said Daffey. "But they'll be in coastal waters so that individual countries can set the legislative environment." Full-blown ships that can operate autonomously through the ocean are still some time away, as they'll require countries to come together on common safety issues. 

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