It sounds like a ghost story: A huge cargo vessel sails up and down the Norwegian coast, silently going about its business, without a captain or crew in sight. But if all goes as planned, it’s actually the future of shipping.
Last week, Kongsberg Gruppen ASA, a Norwegian maritime-technology firm, and Yara ASA, a fertilizer manufacturer, announced a partnership to build the world’s first fully autonomous cargo containership. Manned voyages will start in 2018, and in 2020 the Yara Birkeland will set sail all on its own. It’s the beginning of a revolution that should transform one of the world’s oldest and most conservative industries — and make global shipping safer, faster and cleaner than it’s ever been.
The commercial rationale for autonomous ships has long been clear. The U.S. Coast Guard has estimated that human error accounts for up to 96 percent of all marine casualties.