Kongsberg to build “world’s first” autonomous container ship

Norweigan marine technology firm Kongsberg Maritime has announced plans to build what it claims will be the world’s first autonomous, electric container ship.

The vessel, which is being developed in collaboration with Norweigan fertiliser manufacturer Yara international, will be used as a feeder vessel to transport products from YARA’s Porsgrunn plant to nearby shipping terminals in Brevik and Larvik.

Kongsberg, which has played a major role in wider research into autonomous shipping, will be responsible for all of the key control and monitoring technologies on-board the new vessel, including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.

Geir Håøy, president and CEO of Kongsberg said that the vessel will mark a major step in the development of autonomous shipping technology: “Developing systems for autonomous operations is a major opening and natural step for KONGSBERG, considering our decades of expertise in the development and integration of advanced sensors, control and communication systems for all areas of ship operations.”

The ship will initially begin operating in a manned capacity next year (2018) before moving to remote operation in 2019 and fully autonomous operations from 2020.

Hailed by Yara’s CEO Svein Tore Holsether as a “game-changer”, the vessel is expected to replace the need for up to 40,000 road freight journeys a year. “With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions,” he said.

Kongsberg is involved in several projects in the autonomous shipping arena, including AUTOSEA, which focuses on integrated sensor technology and fusion, and automated collision avoidance systems. The firm is also a key stakeholder in the world’s first official autonomous vehicles test bed, which opened September 2016 in the Trondheimsfjord in Norway.

A number of other groups around the world are also exploring autonomous shipping technology, including Rolls Royce which earlier this year received a grant from Tekes, the Finnish funding agency for innovation, carry out development projects focusing on land-based control centres and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in remote and autonomous shipping.