Rolls-Royce Is Designing Giant Drone Ships to Sail the High Seas

Believe it or not, sailors are a big drag on shipping vessels. They weigh down the ship, take up space, cost thousands of dollars a day, and even cause most of the accidents at sea. So it's no surprise that Rolls-Royce's maritime division wants to replace them with robots.

Rolls-Royce's Blue Ocean development team is perfecting designs for massive drone ships that will be able to shuttle cargo across the ocean without a single human being on board. Instead of a bridge, these ships come equipped with cameras that beam 360-degree views from the vessel back to dry land where teams of operators steer them to their destinations.

The space saved by removing the crew's quarters also means that the ships can carry more cargo and—of course—make more money.

Rolls-Royce Is Designing Giant Drone Ships to Sail the High Seas

How much more? Well, on ships like these, the crew costs an average of $3,299 a day, a figure that amounts to 44 percent of the total operating expenses. If you cut that out and add whatever extra they make for the extra cargo, it could really affect the bottom line for shipping companies. And don't forget about the part where there would be fewer accidents in the absence of human error. Also, no pirates.

Obviously, removing the crews on cargo ships isn't an easy sell. First of all, it's not exactly legal under current maritime law. (Rolls-Royce thinks they can get that changed within a decade.) Maritime unions also don't like the idea at all, and plenty of people have doubts about whether the technology is actually there yet. That said, people were saying the same thing about unmanned aerial vehicles and robots on the battlefield a few years —and look at us now. [Bloomberg]