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Norway advances towards autonomous cargo ships

24/07/2017
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Doubtless you’ve read reports of autonomous cars, trucks and even planes. Now comes reports of an autonomous ship; the Yara Birkeland, a high-tech container ship that will have the capacity to carry around 100 to 150 shipping containers.
The Yara Birkeland will be a high-tech cargo ship capable of carrying around 100 to 150 shipping containers
Image via Yara International

Designed and built by Yara International ASA and Kongsberg Gruppen ASA, the ship is anticipated to set sail on its maiden voyage in 2018. Initially, the Yara Birkeland will be manned like a conventional vessel, however, should tests prove positive it is expected that it will become fully autonomous in 2020.

Automation is expected to arrive in ‘steps’. The first few trips will utilise a crew throughout late-2018. Following this, the ‘bridge’ of the ship will be moved onshore with the ship being controlled much like a drone. Finally, should these steps prove successful, the ship will become fully autonomous (albeit with monitoring continuing from an onshore location).
It is anticipated that the autonomous nature of the craft will reduce overall operating costs by as much as 90%
Image via Yara International

Commenting on the ship, Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara, said:

“Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from YARA’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik where we ship products to customers around the world.”

“With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions.”


As this quote indicates, the vessel is being designed to transport fertiliser 37 miles from a production facility to the Port of Larvik in Norway. The short journey will avoid international waters as the International Maritime Organisation does not plan on having regulations on autonomous international shipping travel until 2020.

The initial development costs of the Yara Birkeland look set to hit $25million- three times the normal production cost of a ship of this size- but Norway is hoping that the investment pays off in the form of long-term emissions reductions and reduced operating costs.
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Norway advances towards autonomous cargo ships - Time to read 2 min
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