Built by Norwegian firms Kongsberg and Yara, the Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric autonomous container ship. It will use GPS, radar, cameras and sensors to navigate itself. With a cost of around £25 million, which is 3 times the cost of a standard container ship, she will hopefully pay for herself as without the need for fuel or crew the annual operating costs could be slashed by up to 90%. Its size will be small compared to modern standards, with capacity for 100-150 shipping containers.
Until 2019 it will be operated as a manual vessel before moving to remote operation and then fully autonomous from 2020. It should begin to ship products from Yara’s production plant to the Norwegian ports of Brevik and Larvik in the later part of 2018.
Svein Tore Holsether, Yara’s president, said: “Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik where we ship products to customers around the world. With this vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce emissions.”
Yara Birkeland will be over 70 metres (230 ft) long, with a beam of 15 metres (49 ft) and a depth of 12 metres (39 ft). She will have a draught of 5 metres (16 ft).
Uncrewed shipping remains unchartered territory. Much of the processes and communications are still in development, and a move to fully autonomous depends on the technology being able to catch up with the design. It could be quite a while before there is no need for any crew!
You can watch the video here