The current state of the worldwide cargo industry is something of a relic of the bygone days of swashbuckling and sailed merchant ships. Nowadays, the sails are gone and the flint-lock rifles have been replaced with more deadly firearms, but otherwise not much has changed. Rolls-Royce, a company usually associated with their outlandishly oppulent automobiles, has put forward a new shipping concept that could bring the world of international cargo into the modern age: drones.
Now, much as they serve the same sort of function, these aren't exactly the same sort of drones that will be delivering your orders from Amazon someday. What Rolls-Royce has proposed are massive, self-piloting cargo vessels capable of being driven remotely either individually or in groups. With the new ships on the water, a single captain could be responsible for dozens of 12,000-foot barges. Hundreds of these hulking drones could be controlled from a single control center, with no risk of danger to their land-based captains.
Rolls-Royce isn't exactly alone in the belief that their idea holds water (you're welcome). The EU has recently pledged $4.8 million to the study of unmanned maritime navigation. The study will conclude next year and will report on how safe and reliable such a system might be. While Rolls-Royce believes that technology and public opinion are in their corner, a number of other groups have raised a wary eyebrow or two. In fact, maritime companies, insurers, engineers, labor unions and regulators have all voiced their doubts concerning the short-term safety of drone cargo fleets. Yes, crews would lose their wages, but when the alterrnative is rolling the dice against the possibility of being shot during a pirate raid, that may not be the worst thing in the world.