Autonomous Ships Become a Reality

Autonomy is all the rage in transport, with driverless cars hitting the headlines for good and bad reasons. Autonomous vessels are becoming a reality and likely to enter service soon. Lloyd’s Register (LR) has released a new ShipRight procedure guidance on marine autonomous operations. The guidance describes autonomy levels (AL) ranging from ‘AL 1’ through to ‘AL 6’ – the highest rating indicating a fully autonomous vessel to which no access is required during a journey.

The ‘AL’ system paves the way to an understanding of the risk-to-reward ratio in  investment. The procedure takes the user from identifying the initial ‘business need’ to a ‘systems classed’ status of a design and a ship, ultimately, in operation.

LR issued its first guidance on cyber-enabled ships in February 2016*. This identified the elements that make up a ‘robotic’ ship and the necessary precautions to ensure that the cyber technology is safe.

LR said that it was working with industry players to make autonomous shipping real. Lloyd’s Register’s Head of Innovation Strategy & Research, Luis Benito said:

“Maybe a few years ago this was seen as unlikely. Today, the market wants autonomous ships that can be operated with varying levels of control. So, we have now described and delivered the levels required to make decisions enabling the design, construction and operation of autonomous ships to take place. The levels provide a procedure to address the safety and practical issues required to meet classification, regulatory and market drivers.

“In the future everything will be cheaper, but with better performance. That’s what the market is looking for. But most importantly, from LR’s perspective, as well as being more cost effective, shipping can also be safer. Safety will reduce costs. We are only at the start of the cyber ship and a cyber-enabled shipping industry but we are making amazing progress. We are trying to help the industry adopt the data, digital and connectivity technologies could deliver benefits to shipping – and to help keep ships safe.

“We are working with clients to create the new generations of cyber ship safety, security and maintenance monitoring and performance guidance that will help secure improved performance and return on investment. Autonomy is one part of our cyber shipping opportunities.”

‘Deploying Information and Communications Technology in Shipping – Lloyd’s Register’s Approach to Assurance’