Technology 4 min read

Rolls-Royce to Make an Autonomous Naval Ship Powered by AI

Rolls-Royce plc |

Rolls-Royce plc |

On Tuesday, the luxury car manufacturer Rolls-Royce revealed its plans to build an autonomous naval ship–a move that signals the company’s official entry to the naval shipping arena.

According to a post published by Rolls-Royce on its website, the company is planning to create a single-role, autonomous naval ship that will have a 3500 nautical-mile range. Apparently, Rolls-Royce is interested in making autonomous ships only, rather that remote-controlled ones. As quoted, Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce General Manager of Naval Electrics, Automation, and Control, said:

“Rolls-Royce is seeing interest from major navies in autonomous, rather than remote controlled, ships. Such ships offer a way to deliver increased operational capability, reduce the risk to crew and cut both operating and build costs.

“Over the next 10 years or so, Rolls-Royce expects to see the introduction of medium sized unmanned platforms, particularly in leading navies, as the concept of mixed manned and unmanned fleets develops. With our experience and capabilities, we expect to lead the field.”

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Rolls-Royce Autonomous Naval Ship Concept
Rolls-Royce Autonomous Naval Ship Concept | Rolls-Royce plc |

Meet the Future Rolls-Royce Autonomous Naval Ship

According to the concept design released by Rolls-Royce, the autonomous naval ship will be capable of operating beyond the horizon for over 100 days, will displace 700 tons and can reach speeds of up to 25 knots or more.

The future vessel is said to be 60 meters long (196.86 feet) and will be designed to execute single role missions ranging from mine detection, fleet screening, and patrol & surveillance.

At the heart of the autonomous naval ship lies a robust and reliable power dense propulsion system. According to the company, the system will be a combination of Rolls-Royce’s “proven expertise both in gas turbines and diesels with a demonstrable track record in electric propulsion, energy storage and propulsors.”

Design Features

Below is the full initial design features of Rolls-Royce’s future autonomous naval ship:

  • Full electric propulsion system which requires fewer auxiliary systems (lubrication, cooling system, etc.).
  • Two Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 Series gensets providing around 4MW electrical power to a 1.5MW propulsion drive.
  • An alternative to diesel engines could be small gas turbines, further improving the system’s reliability and reducing onboard maintenance.
  • Permanent Magnet Azipull thrusters together with a bow mounted tunnel thruster will make the vessel highly maneuverable.
  • Additional 3000 kWh of energy storage to facilitate efficient low speed loiter operations which will reduce fuel consumption and extend operational range.
  • Photovoltaic solar panels to generate power when the vessel is on standby.

Aside from these features, Rolls-Royce also mentioned using artificial intelligence and sensors to help the naval ship operate and navigate safely on its own. The said Intelligent Awareness System would support tools such as energy management, equipment health monitoring, predictive and remote maintenance for the autonomous naval ship.

“Rolls-Royce’s approach is to blend advanced Intelligent Asset Management and system redundancy in a cost effective manner that avoids sacrificing the cost and volume savings achieved by removing the crew. A suite of autonomous support tools, developed by Rolls-Royce, such as Energy Management, Equipment Health Monitoring and predictive and remote maintenance, will ensure the availability of unmanned vessels.” ~ Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce further stated that it was the first company to create the world’s first Intelligent Awareness System that combines multiple sensors and artificial intelligence for vessels to operate safely.

“The operational profile of these platforms will be more complicated than commercial unmanned vessels,” Thorp was quoted as saying. “They will be expected to sail from A to B on patrol, avoiding ships and other navigational hazards.

“At some point between A and B, they will detect something, maybe a submarine, and the mission will change to tracking and surveillance. The power and propulsion system will then need to adopt an ultra-quiet mode to avoid detection.”

This is not the first time that an autonomous naval ship concept has been designed. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was reported to be working with Leidos in designing and building an autonomous ship that will be used to track submarines silently.

Right now,  Rolls-Royce has not yet revealed any partnership. However, it noted that major navies have already shown interest in their project.

How could deploying autonomous naval ships to patrol our oceans be the best course of action to secure every country’s territorial waters? What is your take on this? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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