World’s First Autonomous Cargo Ship Will Launch Next Year

The $25 million Norwegian vessel could be crewless by 2020.

July 26, 2017 1:56 pm

Norway is launching the “Tesla of the Seas.”

Two Norwegian companies are on track to launch the world’s first autonomous ship capable of navigating waterways and delivering goods without a crew. A collaboration between agriculture company Yara and tech firm Kongsberg Gruppen, the Birkeland is scheduled to make its first autonomous shipment, a delivery of fertilizer 37 miles away, in 2018.

The 100-container cargo ship navigates around ships and docks using sensors, radar, cameras, and GPS. Wall Street Journal reports the electric vessel, which costs $25 million, is triple the size of a conventional cargo ship. Yet, Yara claims autonomous vessels will reduce the annual cost of operations by as much as 90 percent.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Birkeland will go autonomous in stages. Its first route next year will human-operated but it could be completely crewless by 2020, pending maritime shipping regulations. The companies hope to invest in larger ships capable of traveling as far as Brazil once international parameters for autonomous shipping are established. Experts are doubtful self-driving vessel will become the norm on cross-oceanic routes, but say they’ll likely be used on shorter journeys.

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