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Shipping is vital in the world of energy as it remains the best way to transport crude oil, natural gas, or almost any sizeable volume of fuel from countries where they are produced to far away customers. However shipping is expensive, so any way to reduce the cost could help reduce the price that the end consumer has to pay for the fuel.
Whilst some shipping companies focus on trying to improve the efficiency of their vessels, and thereby reduce the costs by reducing the fuel consumption, another idea is to reduce the human expense.
Humans that work on ships need special living quarters where they can sleep, bathe, and eat. Providing all of these functions adds a lot of weight to the ship, increasing the fuel consumption, and reduces the space available for storing cargo, and on top of that, the humans can’t work 24 hours a day. Oskar Levander, the head of marine innovation at Rolls-Royce, suggests that replacing human crews with robots would make shipping a lot cheaper. As well as reducing the costs, removing the humans could also increase the safety by eliminating human related accidents. The fact of the matter is that humans get tired when performing repetitive tasks for many hours, on the other hand robots never falter.
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Much like the world of aerial travel, where drones have become increasingly popular, and automobiles, where driverless are cars are begin developed around the world, shipping may well be headed for the age autonomous control.
In order to achieve this vision the technology must be developed capable of controlling ships automatically in a safe manner and international laws governing transport by sea must be updated.
The technology is almost already available, the problem is the law. Maritime laws around the world are controlled by a large number of different bodies depending on the territory in which the water lies, and one of the major hurdles to overcome when attempting to unite these laws will be persuading the US to accept the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is the framework used by the rest of the world.
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The European Union has begun working on the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence Networks (MUNIN), which is a project designed to develop autonomous ships that require fewer on board humans, and can in fact be controlled from remote operation centres on shore.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com