Smart Industry 1/2019


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• Ships need to be able to communicate

wherever they are – even under

bad weather conditions

• Technology has to be integrated

into the existing infrastructure

• Solutions have to be compulsively


In this case, the project is operating

in a rather small and very safe area.

There are just two harbors involved

and they’re only about 30 kilometers

away from the production facility.

Since the project replaces the expensive

road transportation of goods,

amortization of the high cost will not

take very long. In addition, the vessel

serves as a beacon project. The developers

describe the whole project as

“a huge turning point for the global

shipping industry.”

There are many small companies and

start-ups doing development and

research in this area but we will probably

see remote-controlled ships long

before they go fully autonomous.

Netherlands-based Kotug demonstrated

this live at the international

tug, salvage, and offshore support

vessel (OSV) convention ITS 2018 in

Marseille, France. For the presentation,

a captain took over control of

the steering and engine systems of a

tug in Rotterdam (over 900 km away)

using a secured Internet connection

and live cameras. The company stated:

“The real-time sensor technology

makes it possible to give the remotecontrol

captain the situational awareness

that is needed for safe operation.

Combined with the drone technology

to connect the towline, unmanned

shipping is commercially and technically

getting closer.”

Liftoff Achieved

Also in January,

Boeing successfully

tested its first

autonomous passenger

air vehicle (PAV)

prototype, an electric

vertical takeoff and

landing (eVTOL)

aircraft, from an

airstrip in Manassas,


photo ©: Airbus

Taxis in Flight

In January, Airbus’

Vahana team successfully

flew their

autonomous air taxi

for the first time,

combining electric

propulsion and

machine vision in

order to “democratize

personal flight.”

their on-board computers, and several

other in-flight functions are performed

or confirmed by computers.

Indeed, the pilot’s task is increasingly

focused on managing and overseeing

the aircraft and its systems.”

While the vast majority of ships carry

cargo, airplanes are mostly used by

travelers. This leads to one of the biggest

obstacles in the way of autonomous

planes: fear. The UBS worldwide

report Flying Solo: How far are

we down the path towards pilotless

planes? concerning the future of air

transportation canvassed more than

8,000 people. The authors found that

54 percent of the respondents said

they would refuse to board a pilotless

aircraft – and a lower fare would not

make them change their mind. The

number of people who said they’d

be happy to fly on a plane without a

pilot was only 17 percent. The report’s

conclusion shows that the question

was current: “Technically speaking,

remotely-controlled planes carrying

passengers and cargo could appear

by 2025.”

Sooner or later they will appear, since

the report also found the industry

spends more than $30 billion on pilots

annually. Before passenger acceptance

increases, the first noteworthy

steps in this direction will likely

be seen in cargo flights. The two big

players in this field, Airbus and Boeing,

are working on the subject, but

they are keeping quiet about it and

there is hardly any information available.

Both companies are more open

about their smaller, autonomous air

“taxis.” Boeing, for example, proudly

published information about a successful

test they did with an autonomous

passenger air vehicle in January

2019. The prototype completed a

controlled takeoff, hover, and landing

to test the autonomous functions and

ground control systems.

It’s not only the big companies that

are working on this theme; start-ups,

like the Bavarian company Lilium, are

developing quickly. So it may well

happen that small, battery-driven air

vehicles will be the first commercial

autonomous flying objects – and if

passengers have trust in them, they

may eventually accept bigger planes

without pilots.

It looks like we are very close to revolutions

in trains and boats and planes.

The technology for autonomous vehicles

is already available but what’s

still missing are standards for communications

across several systems, acceptance

with passengers, and more

results from field testing. We have

only looked at a few use cases but

there are many more examples and

the revolution could happen faster

than we think.

Robo-Pilots Ready for


In a Q-Series Report in 2017, investment

bank UBS stated, “Commercial

jets already take off and land using

photo ©: Boeing


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