The concept of an unmanned and autonomous ship which is developed in the MUNIN project contributes to all aspects of sustainable waterborne transport by allowing for
- economically sustainable transport due to reduced crew cost, slower sailing speeds and more efficient ship operation,
- ecologically sustainable transport by facilitating a wider deployment of slow steaming and more efficient ship operation and
- socially sustainable transport by significantly increasing the social compatibility and attractiveness of seafaring professions and positively affecting the safety of maritime transport.
The most obvious contribution towards sustainable waterborne transport associated with the concept is in economic terms. MUNIN will focus its research in the area of bulk trades. Here manning costs typically represent more than 30 % of the total ship operation costs and around 10% of the average trip rates /1/ /2/. Accordingly unmanned or at least partly unmanned shipping in this market segment brings along a significant potential to reduce cost. Further, slower sailing speeds become economically viable if crew costs can be reduced. The reasoning behind this is the following: A reduction of vessel speed from 16 to 11 knots for example brings along fuel savings of about 50% per distance sailed /2/. However, a reduced speed also results in a longer voyage time. As a result amongst others charter and crew cost increase per trip which at some point offsets the savings due to less consumption of fuel. If manning cost can be reduced with the introduction of unmanned ships this will allow minimizing the total trip costs by a reduction of the vessel’s speed.
Ecological sustainability currently gains ever more public awareness and the shipping industry acknowledges its responsibility to contribute towards it. A reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with maritime transport is an important objective in order to make maritime transport more environment-friendly in the future. Slow steaming is maybe the most obvious approach to achieve this objective. By diminishing the fuel consumption of a vessel its emissions are reduced equally. Hence the effects of unmanned autonomous vessels on a wider deployment of slow steaming will not only contribute towards economic but also significantly towards the ecological sustainability of maritime transport. Further increases of the efficiency of ship operation, that are expected to be an outcome of the MUNIN project, will contribute towards ecological but also economical sustainability. This refers to improved environmental optimization ship operation and new maintenance and operational concepts amongst other.
A third rational for the research on unmanned autonomous ships lies in the area of social sustainability. Seagoing professions are increasingly perceived as unattractive today. Sea passages are long and often lacking in variety. Port calls that might offer some change to the daily routine are short nowadays allowing for little time to spend ashore. Mariners are confronted with a disconnection from their social environment due to the long time periods they spend away from family and friends. As a result, especially in Europe, a shortage of nautical officers is already perceived by the industry today /3/. Here, the concept of unmanned autonomous vessels offers an opportunity for improvement by increasing the attractiveness of seafaring jobs. Corresponding to the concept demanding and interesting nautical and technical jobs are transferred from the ship to shore. Here the seafarers of the future control and monitor the routing and navigation of the unmanned ship from a shore side operations center, plan the vessel’s maintenance schedule or could even pilot the ship during the approach of a port. At the same time they can live close to their families, follow ordinary working hours and are confronted with fewer tasks that lack in variety. Concerning the improvement of maritime safety associated with the research conducted in the MUNIN project one aspects is in the focus. The MUNIN project will provide much improved technology for the surveillance of the vicinity of the ship. This will not only allow for a better identification of objects nearby but also highly functional detection and situation assessment capabilities will aid human operators to deal with complex situations and help to avoid situations where human fatigue or failure in situation awareness lead to maritime accidents.
/1/ N. Gardiner, Ship Operating Costs 2011-2012: Annual Review and Forecast, Drewry Maritime Research, 2011.
/2/ Ø. J. Rødseth; H-C. Burmeister, Developments towards the unmanned ship, in: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ortung und Navigation e.V. (DGON) (Ed.), Proceedings International Symposium Information on Ships (ISIS 2012), Hamburg, 2012.
/3/ C. Jahn, C. Bosse, A. Schwientek, Seeschifffahrt 2020: Aktuelle Trends und Entwicklungen, Fraunhofer Verlag, Stuttgart, 2011.