Autonomous Ships: The Future of Logistics

  • July 24, 2019
  • Blog

We have heard of pilotless planes, driverless cars and unmanned trains, but have you ever heard of autonomous ships? Well, the shipping industry is evolving with new technologies and innovations and the most exciting discovery has been the use of autonomous navigation systems.

The automation navigation is clearly becoming a reality with SmartDock that allows a ship to sail, navigate and arrive from one port to another without any help from a human. If this is not flattering, there is Yara Birkeland vessel, a 100% autonomous container ship which is under trial right now but will be in operation by 2020 to move fertilizer and chemicals to Norway from the agricultural industry. It is the first baby steps but with technology, there is no doubt that it will be successful and will pave the way for many such cargo ships to come and operate in the big sea.

Is an automated navigation system here to stay?

With all operations in freight forwarding being automated and digitized using cloud, IoT, and blockchain to provide a competitive market to its users, the automated navigation is not a far-fetched dream as it brings in a myriad of advantages to its customers including freight forwarders from reduced pollution emissions, decreased operating costs and time, allowing them to increase the voyage numbers with an increase in cargo volume. Having said that, one can question if freight forwarders would like to be part of such extreme technology as it involves the safety of cargo? And the answer would be yes, freight forwarders would like to get themselves involved in the newest innovation, as it could mean lower freight rates, maximum use of blockchain technology, online operations, Customs management and much more.
Let’s look closely at the advantages and challenges.


Lower operating costs: The major expense for a vessel is the crew wages which is 50 per cent of the vessel’s daily operating expenses. With automated vessels, the savings will be much higher, at around $1million per year.
Higher revenue: Cargo ship revenue depends on the quantity of cargo it carries. If the crew on board is less, it will have extra space for loading cargo which will increase the vessel’s productivity and increase profitability.
Lower voyage expenses: As per the report of Rolls-Royce, the automated vessel will be up to 5% lighter and will use 15% less fuel compared to standard vessels which will further lower the vessel’s trip expense.


Even though automated ships have tremendous advantages, it is attached with a few challenges that raise questions about using it as a viable option.

Controlling framework:
As of now, the framework for regulating the automated ship is not clear, the major concern being safety and the construction standards.

Safety while navigation:
It is obvious that a vessel sailing in the sea will face many issues such as weather conditions, repairs, etc. in such cases the vessel should be intelligent enough to handle all risks by itself or with the help of a shore controller. Besides that, the liability should be clearly expressed to all the stakeholders who should be fully aware of the shore controller’s responsibilities.

With remote navigation on the rise, there might be a risk of unauthorized risk of hackers who will be able to take control of the ships. Hence, it’s important that a system should be built in such a way that it does restrict unauthorized access and also builds a system that gives the shore controller overriding authority over unauthorized access.

If the automated unmanned ships come into reality, the market will comprise both manned and unmanned ships. Depending on the ship, the revenue and operating expenses will be different as well as the freight rates. Even if the freight rates remain the same, the owner of the unmanned ship will be in an advantageous position as their operating profit would be much higher in comparison to the same freight on a standard ship and as per the report such a situation will open new avenues and the market will be completely renovated.
20Cube Logistics is a global freight forwarding, Customs clearance, and warehousing service, provider. For more information, visit