You've heard of self-driving cars—but what about self-driving ships? That's the future, according to Norwegian company Yara, which is developing a battery-powered container ship it says will drive itself by 2020. The chemicals group, which is working with maritime technology company Kongsberg, plans to introduce the Yara Birkeland as a manned ship next year before moving to remote operation a year later and full automation in 2020. That would make the vessel "the world's first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions," per a release. The idea is that the ship would carry fertilizer from Yara's production plant in Porsgrunn to the cities of Brevik and Larvik, saving 40,000 trips taken by diesel trucks each year, reports Quartz.
The ship will "reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions," Yara's CEO says. Yara expects carbon dioxide emissions to fall by 678 tons per year, per Phys.org. The ship, with a range of 65 nautical miles, would haul 100 containers at a time at 12 to 15 knots, traveling a set route. But it would be able to alter that route if it finds itself in another ship's path, for example, per a YouTube video. It "will set the benchmark for the application of innovative maritime technology for more efficient and environmentally friendly shipping," says Kongsberg's CEO. Other "intelligent ships" are already in the works and are predicted to improve efficiency and safety, including by hindering piracy, reports IEEE Spectrum. (Read more shipping stories.)