Association Technique Maritime et Aéronautique

Numéro : 2748 - Year : 2019

Autonomous ships – way ahead

Philippe GOUBAULT, Marc RICHARD - Naval Group - (France)

Autonomous ships are on their way. Numerous actors of the Marine Industry are announcing projects that are going to revolutionize the industry.

It is proposed here to examine the difficulties that are going to be faced in trying to achieve such ambitious objective as the autonomous ship. For this purpose we will offer a two sides approach of the problem: Top-down and Bottom up. We will consider a military ship in this paper

Top-down: consider a complex ship as it esxists today and let us try to identify what needs to be done in order to render it fully autonomous. This is after all the asymptote of a process of reducing crew that has started years ago already. It is curious that nobody seems to complain about the idea of autonomous ships whereas numerous voices have raised issues over manning reduction (too much, too fast…). As a matter of fact the way to the autonomous ship is full of obstacles. It will be necessary to identify and treat them all in order to attain the “Graal”.

Bottom-up: We can on the other hand start from an existing surface drone and see how to increase its capabilities (mission duration, mission complexity, complexity of equipment needed for this purpose, decision autonomy, etc…) to the point of reaching the goal of an autonomous ship.  As the craft grows in complexity and capability, it is necessary to identify ways of maintaining both its capability to decide what to do in full autonomy, and to keep going in the longer term, so as to attain the objective of full autonomy.

The question that comes to mind then is : will the two approaches meet somewhere in the middle or is there going to be a VOID in the two extremes, in which case the goal of a fully autonomous ship might not be achievable ?

This paper is written in English


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