Rolls-Royce is designing an autonomous naval ship capable of patrol, surveillance, mine detection and fleet screening. The latest version of the ship is 60m long and capable of traveling for 100 days. With a top speed above 25 knots, the ship maintains a range of 3,500 nautical miles.
The company is banking on a future where large, human operated, ships operate in consonance with smaller autonomous ships. Automating traditionally manual operations has the potential to simultaneously save money and increase safety.
But without humans on board, nobody is physically standing by in the event of a malfunction. Rolls-Royce says it prioritized the reliability of its power and propulsion systems to reduce the number of unsolvable maintenance issues. This meant adding in some mechanical redundancies and implementing machine learning-powered predictive and remote maintenance capabilities.
The Rolls-Royce ship is designed with solar cells to generate power to extend the amount of time the ship can remain in standby mode. The ship comes equipped with a fully electric propulsion system.
Autonomous ships are nothing new. DARPA worked with Leidos to design and build an autonomous ship for quietly tracking submarines. The proof of concept showed that operation of the craft was significantly less expensive than its manned counterparts.
Any autonomous ship needs to have sufficient protection from threats faced by cyber warfare. Rolls-Royce says it’s paying specific attention to these threats. With maturing computer vision and sensor technology, this, and downtime, remains one of the greatest challenges to implementation.
It’s unclear at this time who might be interested in purchasing the ships. Rolls-Royce plc is based in the United Kingdom.