MAERSK Line has hired Boston-based automation firm Sea Machines Robotics to install 'perception and situational awareness technology' on a new class of containerships.
To 'see' the traffic environment the technology deploys computer vision, LIDAR and perception software, and it will be deployed to 'augment and upgrade transit operations', Fort Lauderdale's Maritime Executive reported.
In a short mission statement, Sea Machines says that it develops autonomous vessel technology for commercial boats and ships and it offers what it describes as the world's first industrial-grade control system to provide autonomous and remote vessel control for workboats and other commercial marine vessels
The technology has the ability to navigate autonomously in many situations with a human standing by to take over if needed. It is targeted primarily at survey, spill response, dredging and security/surveillance applications.
This approach is in line with Maersk's bearish position on unmanned vessels. In an interview with Bloomberg, Maersk CEO Soren Skou said that his firm already uses small crews on its giant box ships and he doesn't see much advantage in taking the last few people off the vessel.
Even if there were a commercial reason to do so and the technology were available, 'I don't expect we will be allowed to sail around with 400-metre long container ships, weighing 200,000 tonnes without any human beings on board,' he said. 'I don't think it will be a driver of efficiency, not in my time.'
In a statement AP Moller-Maersk innovation manager Michael Rodey confirmed that unmanned shipping is not the objective for its partnership with Sea Machines.
'For this containership situational awareness programme, we aim to prove the technology increases our safety, efficiency and reliability. Autonomous vessels are not an end goal for Maersk nor is unmanned vessels, what is more of interest is the technology along the journey and the value it brings,' he said.
The project will have Sea Machines install its equipment on Maersk's new 'Winter Palace' ice-class vessels. The shipping line has ordered seven 3,500 TEU ice-class feeders for service in the Baltic Sea under its Seago Line brand and the first entered service earlier this month.