Since the day KITT graced our screens in the early 1980s on TV show Knight Rider, driverless cars have been a staple in the science fiction universe. It seemed only a matter of time until we had our very own real, working versions of the Pontiac Trans Am driven by David Hasselhoff.
Fast forward 35 years to today and those dreams are very much a reality. The likes of Google, Uber and Nissan are currently testing their driverless models and many other manufacturers are expected to introduce their own versions within the next half decade.
While the development of driverless cars has been covered extensively in the media in recent years, other autonomous methods of transport seem to have flown under the radar. Take vessels, for example. Rolls Royce considers autonomous shipping to be the future of the maritime industry, claiming the smart ship will revolutionise the landscape of ship design and operations.
We very much agree. The business case in favour of autonomous shipping is promising, to say the least. For starters, ships can be designed with a larger cargo capacity and lower wind resistance, because, with no crew to accommodate, certain features of today’s ships can be eliminated. As a result, ships are likely to be lighter and sleeker, cutting fuel consumption and reducing operating and construction costs.
Of course, there are questions over safety and the potential for accidents to occur. Remote and autonomous ships have the potential to reduce human-based errors, but at the same time may modify some existing risks as well as create new ones.
One area that will require careful consideration is servicing and maintenance. Without a crew on-board to react to problems while a ship is at sea, systems must be in place to ensure that ships can monitor their own health and communicate this to specialists on-shore.
This is where condition monitoring using high performance accelerometers comes in. By monitoring machinery on an on-going basis in order to identify any developing faults, maintenance teams can ensure ships are in a healthy and working order. And in instances where a fault is found, maintenance can be planned to take place in advance, before the ship in question is docked – reducing the time a ship is in port, minimising risk and maximising profitability.
We expect to see a remotely operated local vessel with reduced crew to be riding the waves by 2020. By 2025, some forward-thinking shipping companies could be operating remotely controlled, completely unmanned vessels on the high seas. Five years beyond that, unmanned oceangoing vessels may be commonplace.
With this in mind, we think you’ll agree this is a fascinating time for the maritime industry and, as a leading supplier of vibration monitoring equipment, we’re excited to be involved.