Rolls-Royce's autonomous ships will use Google's technology to detect and track objects at sea © Rolls Royce
Rolls-Royce's autonomous ships will use Google's technology to detect and track objects at sea © Rolls Royce

Rolls-Royce and Google team up on drone ships

6 October 2017

Rolls-Royce has signed a deal with Google to develop "intelligence awareness software"—technology central to the company’s drive towards autonomous ships.

The arrangement will see Rolls-Royce make use of Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Engine to further its artificial intelligence-based object classification system, which is used to detect, identify and track objects a vessel can encounter at sea.

Oskar Levandar, Rolls-Royce Marine senior vice president for concepts, innovation and digital systems, said the move was part of the company’s ambition to introduce the first commercial autonomous vessel, whether it is in offshore services, passenger shipping or cargo transport, by 2020.

Eva Fors, Google head of cloud sales in Scandinavia, said the agreement would bring greater machine learning power to the ship propulsion and automation group at Rolls-Royce.

“By exploring the possibilities presented by machine learning, Rolls-Royce can combine the latest technology advancements with its deep knowledge of maritime industry, ultimately bringing significant improvements to the sector,” she said. 

Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Engine also powers many of Google’s image and voice search engines.

Specifically, Google said its software uses a set of algorithms to teach computerised devices to solve specific problems. It can analyse existing data sets, recognising patterns and making predictions and, as more complex patterns are recognised, predictions become more accurate. 

The software can also be accessed globally through the cloud as machines ‘learn’ anywhere in the world. 

Karno Tenovuo, Rolls-Royce senior vice president of ship intelligence, said not only could the technology further the company’s autonomous shipping goals, the AI systems would make vessels safer and more efficient.

“While intelligent awareness systems will help to facilitate an autonomous future, they can benefit maritime businesses right now, making vessels and their crews safer and more efficient,” he said. 

“By working with Google Cloud we can make these systems better faster, saving lives.”

In the longer term, Rolls-Royce and Google said they plan to also test whether speech recognition and computer-generated speech would be a workable solution for human-machine interfaces onboard a vessel. 

Last month Rolls-Royce revealed plans for a 197-foot-long autonomous vessel to perform missions including patrolling, surveillance, mine detection and fleet screening.

The company said the ship would have a planned range of 3,500 nautical miles, be able to operate for over 100 days and reach speeds of over 25 knots.

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