Inmarsat To Provide Satellites For Rolls-Royce Drone Cargo Ships

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Rolls-Royce led £4.8 million project that could pave the way for autonomous ships hauls in Inmarsat for satellite steering

British satellite company Inmarsat has joined a Rolls-Royce initiative that will see its satellites used to coordinate autonomous sea-faring drone ships.

The Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA), recently launched by Rolls-Royce, will explore the economic, social, legal, regulatory and technological factors which need to be addressed in order to make autonomous ships a reality.

Inmarsat’s role in the project is to provide the satellite communications link and platform, which it said is essential for drone remote control capability.

Drone fleets

“The launch of Inmarsat’s Global Xpress mobile broadband network, which forms the heart of the new Fleet Xpress service, is a real turning point for the future of the maritime industry and ideally lends itself to the AAWA Initiative,” said Ronald Spithout, the president of Inmarsat Maritime.

drone“Fleet Xpress will enable the ship-to-shore communications required to support the remote control functionality fundamental to the realisation of the autonomous ship”

It was February this year when Rolls-Royce unveiled its plans for unmanned drone cargo ships. The company said its drone ships would be a cheaper and safer way of transporting global cargo, as well as being far more environmentally friendly.

“The wide-ranging project will look at research carried out to date, before exploring the business case for autonomous applications, the safety and security implications of designing and operating remotely operated ships, the legal and regulatory implications and the existence and readiness of a supplier network able to deliver commercially applicable products in the short to medium term,” said Esa Jokioinen, head of Blue Ocean Team, the division researching drone ships for Rolle-Royce.

The fleets of ships would be controlled from on-shore control centres, saving millions on crew costs. Data transfer between ships, as well as between ships and shore-based control centres, is one of the key development areas for remote controlled and autonomous ship research and forms a fundamental element of the AAWA Initiative.

The AAWA Initiative will build on existing ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication platforms and their effectiveness for supporting remote control functionality. Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service, delivered through the company’s Global Xpress and L-band constellations, is the world’s first hybrid Ka/L-band mobile satellite system, forms the basis of the system.

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