Adoption of fully automated shipping could take decades

The adoption of fully automated shipping could take decades, not years. This is according to a poll conducted by law firm, Kennedy's among 6,000 people, including key industry leaders in the transport and insurance sectors.

Fewer than one fifth of UK respondents said that they were comfortable with the idea of autonomous vessels (18%). This places the UK as the second least supportive of autonomous ships out of the six regions surveyed, behind only Hong Kong. In China, support was more than double that of the UK, with 48% of respondents feeling at least "somewhat comfortable".

The pattern is reflected in people’s broader opinions towards autonomous vehicles: 48% in the UK support partially autonomous vehicles, and only 28% support full autonomy -- the lowest overall levels of support across all regions surveyed.

The key reason for their concern is safety (67%), with respondents specifically placing trust in human judgement over computers (63%).

The market also raises a number of key practical considerations: bad weather conditions and navigation into port may require manual control, while enabling high-speed internet connection while at sea to control and monitor vessels is costly and difficult, potentially taking decades to implement.

Partner at Kennedys, Michael Biltoo says the public clearly has strong reservations about the adoption of autonomous vehicles.

"The challenges that face the maritime sector are particular and exacting: from multi-national regulatory frameworks to barriers of data transfer while off-shore, achieving the consensus necessary to facilitate global fleets of automated ships will be crucial in achieving marine autonomy," he explains.

“However, the benefits are clear and, ultimately, crucial: if shipping is to achieve the ever-tightening environmental standards set by a range of regulatory bodies, a far more data-driven approach to maritime logistics is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, the opportunity to reduce time in dry-dock repairs offers a clear long-term financial incentive to market participants. Greater automation in the sector is inevitable: there now needs to be a clear call-to-action on governments to create modern legal frameworks providing appropriate protocols on the behaviours of vehicle technology."

Biltoo adds that if we are to achieve the public trust necessary, solutions need to also be provided around the storage, usage and sharing of the masses of data which will be collected by the next generation of autonomous vessels -- something that will require a collaborative approach across government, vessel manufacturers, software developers, insurers, law enforcement and consumer groups.

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