We all hear news about companies like Tesla, Waymo, and many others come out with the latest self-driving vehicles. But not so many people are aware of the development in autonomous shipping. It is very interesting that this market segment has sailed under the radar (all pun intended) since it is currently valued at $88.01 billion and is expected to reach $134.90 by 2030. Recently, this was put in the spotlight thanks to a new project that attempts to recreate the Mayflower’s historic journey across the Atlantic. However, there is an interesting twist to this story. Let’s take a closer look.
The Journey of the AI Mayflower
In order to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing the ocean from England to America, researchers are looking to recreate the journey with the help of AI. In fact, this Mayflower will not have a single crew member on board. It will set sail from Plymouth, England on September 6th and will complete its voyage in just 12 days. That’s five times faster than the original Mayflower in 1620. If the AI Mayflower is successful, it will become the first full-sized autonomous ship to cross the Atlantic.
The ship will be equipped with the finest navigational technologies available such as Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) LiDAR, SATCOM, and many others. To top it all off, there will be an IBM-powered AI captain to guide the vessel through its journey. While this is a groundbreaking project, there have many other developments in the world of autonomous shipping. Let’s explore some of them next.
A Ferry Unlike Any Other
While navigating the waters of an archipelago in Finland is not quite the same as crossing the Atlantic, still, we have witnessed the first completely autonomous ferry. Rolls-Royce and the Finnish company Finferries created a vessel that completed a voyage between Parainen and Nauvo inside the coastal waters of Finland. Now only was it able to guide itself across the channel, but its sensors detected objects and thus helped avoid a collision. The navigation system also allowed it to perform autonomous berthing which further reduced the need for human intervention.
However, Rolls-Royce is not yet satisfied having created the first autonomous ferry. They opened a state-of-the-art R&D facility in Finland that will shape the future of the shipping industry.
Finally, a Company That Focuses on Autonomous Shipbuilding
Wilhelmsen and KONGSBERG have teamed up to offer the complete value chain for autonomous ships. This includes everything from designing and developing the vessel to more detailed technologies such as control systems and navigational equipment. The new company will be called Massterly and they have now put an infrastructure in place for creating and operating the ships and providing them with advanced maritime equipment. In the future, they hope to create fully autonomous ships that replace barges and other large vessels that require a lot of manpower to operate.
The AI Technologies that Make It All Happen
Since the ships are completely independent i.e. without a crew to guide them they rely on image recognition and geo-location technology for everything from monitoring the shipping lanes to avoiding collision with other objects and ships. Also, LiDAR is required because it allows the AI-powered system to identify all possible objects it will encounter. The LiDAR produces a 3D point cloud which is a visual representation of how AI technology perceives the physical world. Depending on the specifications of the project, this 3D point cloud will have to be annotated by simply labeling the objects in the 3D point scan or instance level segmentation for more detailed analysis.
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Posted by Il’ya Dudkin