How long will it take for drone cargo ships to set sail and start crossing the high seas?
Military drones already fly frequent missions and civilian operations using unmanned aircraft are coming. Driverless cars are clocking up thousands of test miles. So why not let remote-controlled ships set sail without a crew? Indeed, the maritime industry has started to think about what would be required to launch a latter-day Marie Céleste.
There are many potential benefits to drone cargo ships. Most cargo ship accidents involve human error. Removing that variable from the equation should increase maritime safety. Drone ships will also need far fewer people to run. That will let them save on labor costs and fuel. Unmanned ships will be able to travel slower on long voyages than traditional cargo ships, burning substantially less fuel.
These unmanned ships will have to watch out for a different sort of pirates.
As for piracy, with no crew to be taken hostage it would be much easier for the armed forces to intervene. Of course, more modern pirates might try to hack their way into the controls of an autonomous ship to take command. Which is why encrypted data communication is high on the maritime industry’s list of things to do before ghostly vessels ply the trade routes.
Drone ships will probably still run with a skeleton crew aboard, but it sounds like a job as appealing as being the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel.