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Will we see autonomous ships soon?

You’ve read about automakers refining their driverless automobiles over the next five years. Over that time, you’ve heard a lot about the safety and liability issues surrounding autonomous vehicles. Despite several setbacks, it’s likely to see more of these vehicles on the road within the next decade.

In the same vein, autonomous ships are likely the next wave in shipping technology. A future with autonomous ships could arrive sooner than you think. Some say unmanned ships could set sail in the next year. Some Norwegian vessels have already received approval to sail for testing in local waters with a human monitoring the controls.

Who is liable for accidents?

With autonomous ships on the horizon, there are already legal questions over autonomous ships. Experts predict that they can have regulations in place within the next five years if all goes well, but regulations are more realistically 10 to 15 years away. That’s a wide gap between the introduction of autonomous ships and governing regulations.

Ship makers and lawmakers alike are looking to the examples set by the Federal Aviation Administration that governs aircrafts and auto manufacturers in how they’ve navigated the legal environment surrounding autonomous aircrafts and automobiles. Autonomous ships will likely need laws and regulations to define standards for their design, safe navigation practices, liability for collisions and more.

Waiting for the law to catch up with technology

Autonomous ships are appealing because manufacturers believe they will be more cost effective than traditional vessels. For example, an autonomous ship may cost three times as much as a traditional ship but save up to 90 percent in operating costs. That makes solving the legal and liability questions worthwhile for ship makers.

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