Ships, at this point, carry 90 percent of the world's trade. They also carry people—captains and crew who, inconveniently, tend to require food, water, sleep, electricity, and sewage systems to live comfortably aboard a floating vessel. Supporting these needs, Bloomberg News reports, costs more than $3,000 a day—accounting for, overall, roughly 44 percent of the total operating expenses for a large container ship.
But what if you could avoid those costs? What if you could ship the stuff … without also shipping the people?
That dream—"drone ships," let's call it—has been around for decades. Now, though, it's being pursued in earnest. By Rolls-Royce. The company began developing designs for seafaring drones last year as a safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective means of transporting goods across the oceans. The vessels, according to Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce's vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology, would be 5 percent lighter than a traditional ship before they take cargo. They would also, crucially, burn 12 percent to 15 percent less fuel. The high-tech ghost ships, Rolls-Royce tells Bloomberg, could be operating in regions like the Baltic Sea "within a decade."