Two companies in Europe are bringing the concept of self-driving vehicles to the sea.
The Birkeland, an autonomous cargo ship, is being jointly developed by agriculture firm Yara International ASA and Kongsberg Gruppen AS A, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The Norwegian companies expect the ship to set sail by late 2018, which puts them well ahead of the competition in a race to deploy the world’s first crewless, autonomously operated ship.
The move, which could have a salient impact on seaborne trade, could happen faster than the International Maritime Organization can bring legislation governing crewless ships into effect.
Experts in the industry believe early autonomous vessels will gain traction for short routes but it is not expected that self-operating ships will be used for major intercontinental routes for some time, mostly due to the risk of breakdowns in the middle of the ocean that would require onsite crews.
In addition to being autonomous, the so-called “Tesla of the Seas” is also going to be environmentally friendly.
British manufacturer Rolls-Royce is also working on autonomous technologies designed for oceanic use; its cross-hairs are locked on tugboats and ferries, according to WSJ.