Thursday, January 17, 2019

Shipping: Artificial Intelligence Is About To Take The Helm Away From Humans

From Forbes:
The next time you hop on a ferry, take a look at the captain’s bridge. There may not be a human at the helm much longer. Ships around the world are beginning a transformation into autonomous machines, leveraging the same advances in artificial intelligence that are shaking up the automotive world.
In 2017, Ugo Vollmer and his friend Clement Renault were working on self-driving cars in Silicon Valley when an article on autonomous shipping caused them to make a sudden change in direction.
Reading that more than 80% of goods are transported by sea, a light bulb went off, says Vollmer. “We can have a very huge impact,” he remembers thinking. The French engineers started tinkering with robotizing a small boat along with another friend friend, Antoine de Maleprade. Within three months of joining the incubator Y Combinator in January 2018, their startup Shone struck a deal with the big French shipping line CMA CGM to install a system on cargo ships plying trans-Pacific routes that detects surrounding ships and obstacles.

Shone is one of a wave of companies that are seeking to robotize ships using artificial intelligence to fuse data from shipboard sensors like radar and cameras to create a picture of the hazards around a ship and to navigate among them. Autonomous and remote-controlled shipping promises to reduce the costs of consumer goods and improve safety for passenger ferries and cruise liners. The first commercial vessels likely to operate autonomously at least part of the time are expected to be tugboats and small ferries traveling short routes—the technology could enable an expansion of passenger service into thinly traveled early morning hours and in rural locations.

However, autonomy will play out very differently on the water than on land, and in many cases it won’t take humans off the ship—or entirely away from the controls. Rather than just replacing one driver of a car or truck, oceangoing ships can have 20 or more crew members onboard, some of whom tend to a range of mechanical systems en route.

“Diesel engines require replacement of filters in oil systems—the fuel system has a separator than can get clogged,” says Oskar Levander, who heads Roll-Royce’s autonomous systems efforts. “There are a lot of these things the crew is doing all the time.”...