Rolls-Royce, Google Partner In Developing Pilotless Ships

Google has formed a partnership with Rolls-Royce aimed at making sea ships autonomous. Deep-learning neural networks which are used by the tech giant for image recognition will be deployed to perform the initial work.

The Machine Learning Engine of Google Cloud will also be used by Rolls-Royce with a view to fine-tuning it so that it can detect, identify and track sea objects that a vessel is likely to encounter. This is expected to increase the efficiency of current vessels as well as enhance the safety of the crew members.

Automatic identification system

At the moment traditional technologies such as automatic identification system and radar are used in detecting other vessels in order to avoid collisions. For smaller vessels which are not equipped with these technologies crew members are used instead to look out for other ships and water-borne hazards.

The scanners, sensors and positioning cameras that are outfitted around the ship enable a 360-degree computer vision and when the resulting data is fused with information obtained from the automatic identification system and radar, the crew are relieved of their responsibilities.

Contrary to popular belief that because there is less traffic and fewer obstacles in the oceans it is easier to engineer an autonomous ship than a driverless car, this is not the case.

Multiple tasks

“A typical car AI aims to replace one human — the driver — whereas a typical cargo ship has over 20 crew members, and you need to cover all of the jobs they would do on a vessel,” said Karno Tenovuo, a senior vice president at Rolls-Royce responsible for ship intelligence.

Other responsibilities that an autonomous ship would be required to handle include cargo security, handling as well as other shipboarding systems.

The AAWA (Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications), a project which has enlisted shipbuilders, leading universities, classification societies and equipment manufacturers to identify what needs to be fulfilled prior to pilotless ships beginning operations, is headed by Rolls-Royce. A report has already been released by the AAWA listing three areas to focus on and this includes communication and connectivity, sensor fusion, and control algorithms. The three primary areas will form the basis of the partnership between Rolls-Royce and Google with regards to developing AI systems for pilotless ships.

The partnership between the two firms comes in the wake of an announcement by the online search giant that it would cease showing adverts on websites which violate standards set by Coalition for Better Ads. Digital ads expected to be banned include those that are intrusive and annoying.

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