For years, the world has been promised fully self-driving cars. Despite numerous road trials and advances in technology, we are still waiting. Will we have to wait even longer for fully self-driving marine vessels? The answer may surprise you.

Just over ten years ago, major car and tech companies around the world announced that by now, they would be mass producing vehicles capable of self-driving, monitoring, and handling every eventuality on the road. These would be known as fully autonomous vehicles.

However, developing such a vehicle has proved difficult to deliver. Surely, self-driving marine vessels such as boats, ships and yachts will prove equally difficult to deliver? Perhaps not.

Traveling on water is very different. Firstly, there are fewer users in rivers and the sea than on roads. This means there are less obstacles to contend with. Vessels also often follow set routes, such as shipping routes and ferry crossings, all of which makes navigation easier than an autonomous car.

The next question is; when can we expect automated marine vessels? The answer to that is that there are already many self-driving boats and ships operating around the world, powered by advanced artificial intelligence and sensor systems, that navigate, avoid obstacles, and adapt to ever changing conditions.

Cargo carriers
In 2021, Norway tested a cargo ship operating without crew, and in 2022, the car company, Hyundai sailed their 134, 000-ton commercial tanker from the Gulf of Mexico to South Korea.

Passenger Ferries
The United Arab Emirates completed a trial in May this year for an automated ferry that can carry eight passengers. It is planned that autonomous ferries will operate during the Paris Olympic games in 2024.

Do We Really Need Autonomous Vessels?
Advocates argue that autonomous marine vessels will reduce human error, be faster, enhance safety, and minimise accidents. They also claim that the vessels will optimise fuel consumption and reduce carbon emissions.

What is the Future for Yachts?
Back in 2019 we reported that there were yachts that could be controlled via an iPad. Sadly, since then there has been no official news of pleasure yachts being uncrewed or automated. However, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, a robot will be able to pour you a drink while advanced AI sails your yacht past other autonomous vessels.

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