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Robot cargo ships are coming

Mar. 4, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
An Rolls-Royce unmanned cargo ship at sea.
An Rolls-Royce unmanned cargo ship at sea. ()
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Unmanned cargo ships may soon be plying the oceans. Rolls-Royce is designing robot freighters that might deliver goods within a decade, according to a Bloomberg report.

Unmanned cargo ships would revolutionize the $375 billion commercial shipping. They would also have profound implications for the world’s navies, from convoy escort to automation of warships and military transports themselves.

“Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge,” said Bloomberg. “Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships.

The robot vessels would be packed with containers, without the need for crew facilities such as a bridge, sleeping quarters, and air conditioning. Rolls-Royce estimates than an unmanned freighter would be 5 percent lighter and consume 12 percen to 15 percent less fuel. There will be redundant control systems, while sensors can detect hazards in the water.

The European Union is pursuing the $4.8 million Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks study, which is preparing an unmanned vessel for simulated sea trials.

However, maritime workers unions and some regulatory bodies have expressed concerns about the safety of robot cargo vessels.

IARPA Seeks Clues to Track Emerging Events

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is mulling how to discern emerging events from a mass of unstructured data.

But that’s tough given current technology, according to an IARPA request for information titled “Emerging Events and Participating Entities: Knowledge Representation and Reasoning with Uncertainty and over Time.” Current analytical tools “do a reasonable job of identifying facts of interest in data (e.g., person names, organizations, locations) but cannot reliably identify the events and activities that link these facts together.”

IARPA is looking for new automated technologies that can identify events, and those participating in them, at an early stage. Among the challenges are defining just what is an event, correlating references to that event across multiple documents, and addressing uncertainty over the event. “The difficulty with event emergence is that it is characterized by uncertainty because there are rarely explicit references in data to what the end goal of the unfolding process is,” the agency notes. “Identifying and understanding time and reasoning about the emergence of events and the sequencing of activities are extremely difficult.”

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