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Rolls-Royce ship is part of a new wave of autonomous marine technology

Amit Katwala, at DSEI 2017


​Rolls-Royce is building an autonomous naval vessel with a range of 3,500 nautical miles.

The 60m-long ship, which was announced during the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event at London’s ExCeL centre, will be used for patrol and surveillance or detecting mines, and will be capable of reaching speeds in excess of 25 knots.

“Rolls-Royce is seeing interest from major navies in autonomous, rather than remote-controlled, ships,” said Benjamin Thorp, general manager of naval electrics, automation and control at Rolls-Royce. “Such ships offer a way to deliver increased operational capability, reduce the risk to crew and cut both operating and build costs.

“Over the next 10 years or so, Rolls-Royce expects to see the introduction of medium-sized unmanned platforms, particularly in leading navies, as the concept of mixed manned and unmanned fleets develops. With our experience and capabilities we expect to lead the field.”

Autonomous vessels will dominate marine activity over the next decade, according to a report from QinetiQ, Lloyd’s Register and the University of Southampton, also released during DSEI. “Networks of autonomous surface and underwater vessels are set to radically change the nature of maritime operations,” said Tim Kent, marine and offshore technical director at Lloyd’s Register.

“Developments widely reported in the media, such as those in autonomous shipping, are happening with greater pace than expected as little as two years ago. These developments enabled by technology provide new opportunities and potential for disruptive business models. However, the principal challenges will be the integration of these autonomous systems into current maritime operations, legal and regulatory requirements, and not least the impact upon seafarers.”

The developments offer a real opportunity for the marine sector, according to Bill Biggs, senior campaign leader for autonomy at QinetiQ. “Applied artificial intelligence, low-cost, low-size sensors, increased connectivity, improved cyber security and better energy management are all likely to drive rapid and disruptive change,” he said. “Trials already undertaken by navies and transport companies demonstrate the opportunities that autonomous maritime systems present.”


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