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autonomous ship

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

An autonomous ship is a water craft piloted by artificial intelligence (AI). These vessels can potentially be unmanned and function autonomously as a type of seafaring drone.

Autonomous ships use a fleet of sensors combined with sensor fusion to give the ship’s AI a precise combined image of the world. Sensors used include radar, lidar, high definition cameras, thermal imaging and sonar. Ships can progress though different levels of autonomous operation from fully manned ships to partially operated, remote operated, partially autonomous and fully autonomous unmanned ships. Autonomous ships make sailing of ships safer because of reduced human error. There is also less expense because of decreased crew costs.

Early implementations of autonomous ships include coastal ferries and trade ships. Military developments of autonomous ships include Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). Despite the progress on autonomous ships, some experts argue that there is currently no economic benefit to the pursuit of a fully autonomous ship, and that there will always be value in onboard human oversight.

This was last updated in February 2019

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