The first self driving cargo ship will take to Norwegian seas in 2018 complete with robocranes to load and unload itself

Researchers have developed the world's first autonomous, zero-emissions cargo ship. 

The vessel, dubbed Yara Birkeland, will be fully battery-powered and capable of autonomous mooring and route planning.

The vessel could dramatically reduce diesel emissions from conventional cargo ships. 

The vessel, developed by agriculture company Yara International ASA and high-technology systems firm Kongsberg Gruppen, will be loaded and unloaded automatically using electric cranes.

It's set to start sailing fertilizer in late 2018, 37 miles down from a Norwegian fjord, to a production plant at the port of Larvik, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.  

The vessel will have a GPS system, allowing it to navigate itself and around other boats autonomously, with the aid of a radar, cameras and sensors.
Three control centers are set to handle the ship's operation. 

These centers will handle emergency and exception handling, condition monitoring, operational monitoring, decision support and surveillance of the ship and its surroundings and other safety aspects. 

According to Kongsberg Gruppen, the ship will not have a ballast tank, which the company says will aid in the protection of the marine environment. 
Indeed, ballast tanks on large ships are known to have a negative impact on the marine environment.

This is because the water carried inside them can be discharged in different ports, and non-native species inside this water can be introduced to different areas, leading to economic and ecological damage.

The ship will costs $25 million to build - approximately three times more than a conventional cargo ship of its size.  

However, because it doesn't require fuel or a crew, its backers say it will cut annual operating costs by up to 90 per cent. 

 The vessel has a GPS system which allows it to navigate itself and around other boats autonomously, with the aid of a radar, cameras and sensors

The ship, which will be able to carry 100-containers, is expected to be tested near the end of next year - but it will be tested with a person at the control instead of autonomously. 

Petter Ostbo, Yara's head of production who leads the ship project, said the company would look into investing in larger ships for longer routes when there are international regulations in place for vessels without crews. 

'Maybe even move our fertilizer from Holland all the way to Brazil,' Ostbo told the Wall Street Journal. 

The Yara Birkeland automated vessel would sail within 12 nautical miles from Norway's coast, between three ports in southern Norway. The ship is set to sail 37 miles down from a Norwegian fjord, to a production plant at the port of Larvik in late 2018 

However, this may take time as the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates shipping, doesn't expect legislation for crewless ships to be in place until 2020. 

According to Kongsberg Gruppen, the ship will reduce diesel-powered truck haulage by 40,000 journeys a year in Southern Norway. 
'We want to go zero emission,' said Ostbo.

Even if some say climate change is not reality, it’s a business reality because clean sources of energy are more affordable than fossil fuels.'

Yara International and Kongsberg Gruppen aren't the only companies looking to develop autonomous ships - last year, Rolls Royce revealed plans to develop fleets of 'drone ships,' with the first ships developed being ferries and then cargo ships to carry cargo around the world - all controlled from a central 'holodeck'.

The boats would be controlled from land using hi-tech control rooms, and cameras would beam 360-degree views from the drone ship back to operators based in a virtual bridge.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal

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