As Google, Tesla and Uber push the boundaries of self-driving car technology, Rolls-Royce is pioneering crewless ships.
The British engineering giant has announced plans to release the first of its fleet of autonomous vessels by 2020.
Working with government-backed groups across Europe, the company is hoping to launch tugboats and ferries first, with cargo ships that can sail across international waters set to follow.
Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce’s vice president of innovation, told Sky News: “The development will start in a few countries, and these flag states will give the vessel permission to operate before we have international regulations in place.”
Rolls-Royce said the tech would cut transport costs by as much as 20% while making sailing safer.
The safety argument is often made for driverless cars too, but the public and regulators aren’t always so enthusiastic.
The plans prompted criticism from the international maritime union Nautilus. A spokesman told Sky: “We are concerned that technology is seen simply as a way to cut jobs and cut costs.”
But Rolls-Royce insists that the ships will create more jobs on land, singling out cybersecurity as a key growth area.
When the firm announced plans for the ships last year, it revealed that the fleets would be managed via by a pilot in a control centre using augmented reality.
At the time, Levander said: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist.”