Driverless boats: How automation is coming to the ocean

Just like every other industry, automation is coming to the seven seas.

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The world is becoming automated. But it’s not just cars and factories. The mining industry, for example, has long been a proponent of taking people out of the equation with remotely-controlled or entirely automated vehicles now doing most of the actual digging and mining. Now the ocean is set to follow suit.

Containerisation and shipping are the lifeblood of today’s modern world. Some 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. But the shipping industry is in a state of flux. Last year a major Korean shipping company went bankrupt, and in March this year a $60 million container ship just seven-years-old (the average lifespan of such a vessel should be around 25-30 years) was scrapped for a mere $5.5 million.

“Cargo shipping nowadays is not a good business. Almost everybody is losing money at this,” says Dr. Jaakko Tavitie, Innovation Scout at DIMECC, a Finnish organisation dedicated to exploring and enabling digital transformation.

“There is more shipping capacity available on the market than there is need to ship goods. There's an over-capacity situation, where prices come down and the profitability is pretty weak.”

These hard times, however, means the industry is ripe for innovation and disruption.

Empty - but not rudderless - vessels

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