Maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy with over 90% of the world’s trade being carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world. Shipping is the life blood of the global economy. Without shipping, intercontinental trade, the bulk transport of raw materials, and the import/export of affordable food and manufactured goods would simply not be possible.
There are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations, and manned by over a million seafarers of virtually every nationality. With such massive volume, comes massive responsibilities. While comparatively safer than airplanes, sailing ships are at constant risk of accidents, and ships are to be anchored very careful at any port to ensure convenient transport of material into the ship and out. All of this makes it cumbersome to handle ships and causes problems with accuracy or quality of usage.
That, however, is going to change by 2020 when Yara, a Norwegian agriculture company, announced the development of what they call Tesla of the seas; a model for a fully autonomous ship that is capable of maneuvering and managing ships and their operation cycles using programmed logic control.
“A vessel like Yara Birkeland has never been built before, and we rely on teaming up with partners with an entrepreneurial mindset and cutting edge expertise,” the CEO of Yara, Svein Tore Holsether, certainly sounds very ambitious and confident in the project development that the company has recently incepted.
However, with a project as massive as modeling, optimizing, designing, simulating, prototyping, manufacturing and testing of an entire ship is no easy task and it would be wrong to think that Yara are the only stakeholders involved. Yara has currently partnered with two more companies, VARD and KONGSBERG and might be looking forward to finding more partners and potential investors and share holders.
Commenting on the participation and partnership of VARD in the project, the CEO of Yara commented, “VARD combines experience in customized ship building with leading innovation, and will deliver a game-changing vessel which will help us lower our emissions, and contribute to feeding the world while protecting the planet.”
Geir Håøy, CEO of KONGSBERG, said, “Yara Birkeland represents an important next step for the entire maritime industry, representing a major technological and sustainable advancement. The Norwegian maritime cluster has taken a leading position within technology, design, legislation, testing and all other aspects of the development.”
The ship is originally being designed and programmed to export Yara’s fertilizer shipments from the ports they supply to, to other countries and other ports; however, technology in itself is a chain reaction. The hull will be delivered from Vard Braila in Romania.
Once the first ship is prototyped and put to commercial usage, planned for Q1 2020, the breakthrough in the logistics department would be confirmed to be profitable and fertile for research for autonomous logistics systems. How successfully this happens is perhaps just a matter of time.