Automation to Deliver Sea Change in Cargo Transport

Automation and transportation have come together in the air in the form of drones.  On land, many tech companies and automakers are working on self-driving cars.  Although we don’t hear quite as much about is the application of the technology to transport over water, we may see it become a reality within just a few years.

Back in 2014, Rolls Royce presented its concept for an autonomous ship.  The BBC report quoted Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce's vice president of innovation, engineering and technology, "Now it is time to consider a road map to unmanned vessels of various types. Sometimes what was unthinkable yesterday is tomorrow's reality.”

However, the law had not yet caught up to that reality. Simon Bennett, a representative of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), ascertained that international law still did not allow for crewless ships. He told the BBC that a legal change "would require a complete overhaul of the regulatory regime.”

There are those working on achieving that change. The BBC report referred to an EU-funded project working toward ships that could function without crews. Called Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence (MUNIN). In addition to making it technically feasible, MUNIN aims to work out the necessary changes in legislation to allow autonomous ships to function.

It envisions “highly advanced navigation systems” that would analyze conditions toavert accidents. As in the case of some of these sensor systems engineered to enable autonomous functions in cars, the plan is to apply the technology even for ships that are driven by people, as they could “support the officer of the watch.” That in itself could prove very valuable in light of the “human error” blamed for the recent collision of the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship.

After working at it for three years, they may have achieved some movement on the legal end. Among the items on the agenda for the 98th session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC)  this past June was: “Scoping exercise proposed on autonomous vessels.” That was described as: “The MSC will be invited to consider proposals for the Committee to undertake a regulatory scoping exercise to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments.”

Progress can be slow, but at least the ball is starting to roll toward reshaping shipping regulations to allow the legal reality to catch up with the technological reality.

Though no autonomous ships are carrying cargo yet, Rolls Royce’s Levander asserted at the beginning of this year, “ we expect fully autonomous oceangoing cargo ships to be routinely plying the world’s seas in 10 or 15 years’ time.”  In support of that view, Rolls Royce created this video that imagines the short control of the future.

In fact, that vision may even occur within the decade, according to BHP one of the largest dry bulk charterers in the world. At the end of May, it described its vision for a “safer, greener and leaner” freight approach. Automation is part of that equation, according to BHP:
Building on automation and remote-operation changes in our land-based supply chain, autonomous vessels offer significant opportunities to improve safety (removing people from dangerous tasks and more data-driven decision-making) and provide better efficiency outcomes to the marine supply chain. Safe and efficient autonomous vessels carrying BHP cargo, powered by BHP gas, is our vision for the future of dry bulk shipping. We believe that future could manifest within a decade.
Should the autonomous ships come to fruition, the savings on logistical costs would be enormous. Bloomberg estimates as much as “$86 billion a year” for the larger iron mine players. But even for smaller players, crewless ships offer the same promise of greater efficiency that other automated technologies contribute to processes and transport.

Undoubtedly, automated ships can bring about a sea-change in the logistical side of the electronic supply chain. And with the support of legislative change, as well as major players, that change may arrive within the next ten years.  


New EPA Tool Helps Communities Access More Than $10 Billion in Water Infrastructure Financing

New EPA tool gives communities access to information and financing opportunities that will help improve water quality and protect public health

07/26/2017     Contact Information: (

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is launching the Water Finance Clearinghouse, a web‐based portal to help communities make informed financing decisions for their drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure needs. The Clearinghouse provides communities with a searchable database with more than $10 billion in water funding sources and over 550 resources to support local water infrastructure projects. It consolidates and expands upon existing EPA-supported databases to create a one-stop-shop for all community water finance needs. The Water Finance Clearinghouse was developed by EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, an information and assistance center that provides financing information to help local decision makers make informed decisions for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure to reach their public health and environmental goals.

“Every day, Americans depend on water infrastructure to ensure that their drinking water is safe and that local waterways stay clean,” said EPA’s Office of Water’s Deputy Assistant Administrator D. Lee Forsgren. “Investing in water infrastructure sustains local economies by creating jobs, protecting public health, and increasing quality of life. EPA’s Clearinghouse is a vital portal that helps connect communities with the information and tools they need to finance much needed water infrastructure improvement projects.” 
Many communities around the country have aging or inadequate water infrastructure: each year approximately 240,000 main breaks occur while elsewhere billions of gallons of raw sewage are discharged into local surface waters from aging conveyance systems. Communities increasingly need efficient access to up-to-date water finance information to rehabilitate or replace their water infrastructure. EPA’s new Water Finance Clearinghouse meets this need.
The Water Finance Clearinghouse gives local decision makers an opportunity to search for available funding sources for water infrastructure as well as resources (such as reports, webpages, and webinars) on financing mechanisms and approaches that can help communities access capital to meet their water infrastructure needs. State, federal, local, and foundation funding sources and resources on public-private partnerships, asset management practices, revenue models, and affordability approaches are included in the Clearinghouse.
The Water Finance Clearinghouse is updated in real-time, following a crowdsourcing model. States, federal agencies, and other water sector stakeholders have the ability to suggest edits and new resources or funding options at any time through the Contributor Portal. Stakeholders can use this interactive feature to manage how their programs and initiatives are displayed in the Clearinghouse.  
EPA webinars on how to use the Clearinghouse are scheduled for:
  • July 27
  • July 31
  • August 3
  • August 14
  • August 18
  • August 24
  • August 31
All webinars will be held 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Eastern. You can register at: