The dangers of the shipping industry is maybe not something you hear a whole lot about, but in the eyes of Rolls-Royce there is room for improvement when it comes to maritime safety. The company has announced that it is teaming up with Intel to accelerate the development of autonomous shipping systems to make operations safer and more efficient.

Intel's ambitions in the autonomous vehicle space are pretty well documented. It's navigation technology can be found in drones, flying taxis and security robots, while last year it splashed US$15 billion on Israeli driverless technology company Mobileye.

Rolls-Royce, too, has made some pretty solid steps toward an autonomous shipping future. Since first unveiling its vision of a robotic cargo ship in 2014, it has partnered with the European Space Agency to work towards satellite systems for ship-to-ship communication, and starting trialing its Intelligent Awareness (IA) systems on vessels operating in Japanese waters.

These systems process data from lidar, radar, thermal cameras, HD cameras, satellites and weather forecasts to make vessels aware of their surroundings. According to Rolls Royce, the IA system trialed at night time in Japan aboard a 165-m (541-ft) passenger ferry enabled onboard officers to detect nearby objects that they wouldn't otherwise have seen in the darkness.

Development of IA is ongoing, and moving forward Intel will now build Xeon Scalable processors to power the servers on board, while data will be stored on Intel 3D NAND SSDs. It will also put its Field Programmable Gate Array technology to use, which Rolls-Royce says will help with the obstacle detection and navigation side of things.

Intel points to the thousand-plus shipping losses over the past decade, many of which it attributes to human error, as motivation for the development of autonomous ships. Rolls-Royce has previously targeted 2020 as the year that its first robotic vessels will take to the water.

"We're delighted to sign this agreement with Intel, and look forward to working together on developing exciting new technologies and products, which will play a big part in enabling the safe operation of autonomous ships," Kevin Daffey, Rolls-Royce, Director, Engineering & Technology and Ship Intelligence. "This collaboration can help us to support ship owners in the automation of their navigation and operations, reducing the opportunity for human error and allowing crews to focus on more valuable tasks."

Sources: Rolls-Royce, Intel

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