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Unmanned ghost ships are next on the automation radar

First it was pilotless drones. Soon it could be driverless cars. And if the tech firms involved with their development are successful in achieving their goals, it will eventually be unmanned “ghost” ships as well that, according to new reports, could add yet another logistical mode of transfer to the human-less product delivery lineup.

Set to be unveiled by as early as 2020, unmanned ghost ships are the latest concept to hit the automation world. With many land-based automated delivery options already in the works, the natural next step is to pursue sea-based delivery methods that utilize water to get products where they need to go faster and more efficiently.

Christian Matthews, head of maritime technology at Liverpool John Moores University, recently published a piece in The Conversation explaining how the first automated cargo ship is already being developed for a Norwegian agricultural fertilizer company. If all goes according to plan, the vessel will sail on the open seas in less than three years.

But first, there have to be changes made to international shipping laws, which currently dictate that all ocean-going vessels must be manned by actual human being. Until that happens, automated ships will only be allowed to operate close to the coastlines of the countries in which they operate, in this case Norway.

But this could change, as the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced earlier this year that it may change the rules and allow unmanned vessels to traverse international waters. This is a promising advancement for companies like the Norway-based Yara Birkeland, which is already far along in bringing its first automated “ghost” ship to the commercial market.


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