The next transportation race: Self-driving boats - FOX Carolina 21

The next transportation race: Self-driving boats

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(AP Image) (AP Image)

(AP) -- Self-driving cars may not hit the road in earnest for many years – but autonomous boats could be just around the pier. Big maritime firms have committed to designing ships that won’t need any captains or crews on board. 

Startup company Sea Machines Robotics tested a driverless workboat in Boston Harbor this summer. The boat still needs human oversight.

One person keeping watch from a nearby dock and another at the helm.

Sea Machines Robotics' CEO Michael Johnson plans to sell the autonomous control system he's been testing to companies doing oil spill cleanups and other difficult work on the water.

"The oceanic environment is the perfect domain for autonomy."

Within the next five years, some of the world's biggest maritime firms have committed to designing tugboats, passenger ferries and cargo vessels that won't need any captains or crews.

At least not on board.

Engineering firm Kongsberg Maritime is working on a zero-emission container ship that would deliver products to three Norwegian ports rather than having them trucked there.

The pilot ship is scheduled to launch next year and be fully autonomous by 2020.

University of Michigan engineering professor Matthew Johnson-Roberson says recent deadly navy collisions underscore the need for technology to make the water safer.

"It shows you that it is still a really critical thing to get right, that you can't make mistakes. And what we want to do is create technology that makes it safer than what we're doing right now, and as soon as it is safer and cheaper, I think you're going to see that happening. I think the companies that are working on it are figuring out how to make this a business reality, but the technology is mostly here."

While challenges remain, including winning public trust and protecting against remote hacking.

The maritime industry is full speed ahead for a self-driving boat future, and fewer hands on deck.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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