The 10 unmanned water craft that talk of the future

There are a number of uniquely interesting projects underway that highlight how automation in shipping is advancing.  Not only is there work on making commercial shipping more integrated, but other work, on somewhat smaller vessels, are also giving a hint of the future.

The umbilical-connected ROV has been unleashed, the remote controlled boat in the duck pond has just been given a mind of its own,  and a military grade reboot.

Automated shipping will not start with the big ships, it may never get that far, but it will start small-  a small ferry or offshore vessel perhaps, sailing only in national or local waters.

Here’s the top 10 developments that we at Fathom have found, that are proving there are unmanned vessels today. These are the high powered real life examples of autonomous vessels in action, though the challenge of course will be in scaling them up to meet the demands of any commercial shipping needs and then deciding how to best deploy the technology in an international arena.

This list is far from comprehensive, and maybe focused heavily on developments of ROVs in the offshore sector, but it’s aimed at showing how advanced research into autonomous unmanned water borne systems has become, thus giving an indication of what could be achieved.

1.Maritime Robotics

This is a Norwegian company with a range of airborne and waterborne autonomous craft. It has teamed up with Norwegian tech firm Kongsberg to further examine autonomous craft. It is part of a consortium that has now received permission from the Norwegian government for an official test region in the waters off Trondheim where the company is based.

2. Liquid Robotics

One of the products Maritime Robotics lists on its website is Wave Glider, which is under development from US-based Liquid Robotics, a Boeing subsidiary. Liquid Robotics describes Wave Glider as the world’s first ocean robot powered by wave and sunlight.

3. Autonaut

This is an unmanned service vessel concept designed to use wave power for propulsion let loose off Plymouth in South England recently. The company, whose directors can be linked to the Royal Navy and BMT, see the wave-propelled Autonaut as being able to replace weather buoys and even offer services to the military.

 4. Yunzhou Tech

The Emergency Sampling & Monitoring Vessel (ESM30) is an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) designed by Yunzhou-Tech, based in Guandong, China.

5. ASV Global

While UK-based ASV builds and rents autonomous vessels with a distinctly military focus, it does have a series of products (C-Workers) that have much more commercial workboat applications

6. Sea Machines

Boston, USA-based Sea Machines Robotics is three years old. It sees itself as a forward-looking autonomous technology company, developing advanced control systems for vessels and specialised unmanned surface vessels. It sees its products as having a use across the whole maritime industry.

7. Modus

Modus is a company in North East England that has completed system integration and trialling of one of the subsea industries first commercially available hybrid unmanned underwater vehicles. The company has worked with Saab Dynamics for three years, developing advanced sensor payload packages and operating methodologies. Like many of these examples demonstrating automation, the Modus AUV will be used in survey and inspection projects in the oil & gas, interconnector and offshore renewables sectors, as well as offer a number of applications in the oceanographic and defence sectors. The company sees its AUV as a game changing development for the subsea industry.

8.Sea Drone Pro

Sea Drone is what the name suggests. It also looks remarkably like a remote controlled jellyfish, albeit one with precise movement control and high resolution cameras.


Then there is The Eel. Like many of the examples of automated, near automated or remotely operated vessels, Eelume’s products are focused on underwater intervention in the oil and gas sector. This Norwegian tech firm is a spin off from the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).  The University’s research into snake robots was in collaboration with the Norwegian research outfit SINTEF. The company now has a strategic partnership with Kongsberg and Statoil as it looks to revolutionise underwater operations

10. Automated Ships Ltd

Automated Ships is behind Hronn. Unlike the rest of the examples shown here, Hronn does not exist, but it likely will soon. Hronn will become the largest unmanned offshore vessel when built. Last year Automated Ships signed a memorandum of understanding with Kongsberg in Norway, to build the vessels. Once built, the companies expect sea trials to take place off Trondheim at the newly designated automated vessel test bed there. Class society DNV GL is likely to class the vessel.

And finally, ever wondered how an unmanned ship will see?

So how will autonomous ships work?  Part of the answer can be found in the video below from Kongsberg


Share article:

Dedicated topic pages >>

Other news >>


Stay On Top Of The Transformation Of The Shipping And Maritime Sectors With Our Weekly Email Newsletter.