Soon, we’ll live in a world where our cargo makes its way from coast to coast on an autonomous ship. At least that’s Yara International’s plan. The Norway-based company’s crewless electric cargo ship, the Yara Birkeland, will set sail on its maiden voyage before the year’s end.
The vessel was originally slated to set sail in 2020, but the trip was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while it isn’t the first crewless ship—that honor goes to a Finnish ship that launched back in 2018—it is the world’s first crewless fully electric container ship. The Birkeland will be controlled remotely by three separate control centers.
The ship’s first journey will see it transporting a light cargo load from Herøya to Brevik, two towns that are both in Norway. It won’t break any speed records, though. The ship has a top speed of 13 knots from its dual 900kW propulsion system. Plus, its sizable 7MWh battery will take quite a while to fully charge.
Once it’s officially up and running, however, the Yara Birkeland will ultimately replace as many as 40,000 truck trips each year. This will, in turn, help reduce nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions and alleviate road traffic. The company eventually plans to automate the process of loading and unloading the ship with autonomous cranes and straddle carriers.
Later down the line, fully electric autonomous ships could also transport goods to different countries. They are capable of learning how to navigate busy seaports on their own without endangering the lives of the humans who navigate them; however, before they’ll ever be able to do so, Yara and other similar companies will have to deal with local legal issues and maritime laws. They’ll also need to build and implement the technology that’ll allow ships from multiple companies to interact and communicate with one another.