Yara Birkeland: The autonomous zero-emission cargo ship from Norway

The ship Yara Birkeland  is expected to make its first journey from the town of Heroya to Brevik by the end of the year without crew, (although it was originally planned to set sail last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed it) while its route will be monitored from three onshore data control centers.

It may not be the first autonomous ship, as the first one was launched in Finland in 2018, but it is the first fully electric container ship according to its manufacturers.The chemical company Yara International built the Yara Birkeland in order to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions ( the shipping industry accounts for 2,5%-3% of global greenhouse gases emissions according to the International Maritime Organization) and facilitate freight transporation away from busy roads.

The ship was created in cooperation with Kongsberg Maritime,a world leader in marine technology and shipbuilder Vard,  major global designer and shipbuilder of specialized vessels .It can carry 103 containers and can replace 40,000 truck journeys a year, with a 7 MWh battery”, says Jon Sletten, plant manager for Yara’s factory in Porsgrunn, Norway.

The vessel is not only environmentally-friendly but also cost-effective, states Sletten.

So far today, loading and unloading the ship and other similar activities need human help, but eventually they will also be operating with autonomous technology, according to Sletten.

Vessels like the Yara Birkeland are the future despite the challenges that must be faced before autonomous ships can be used for commercial long sea journeys.Also, these ships need to cooperate soon enough in order to exchange information as well as acquire self-diagnosing systems which will detect and fix problems or ask for human assistance. Additionally, apart from technical issues, legal implications should be faced as in different regions different rules and regulations apply. Finally, AI elements are already being used in shipping today as far as mooring and voyage are concerned but more AI technology elements will be used on commercial ships in the future, says Rudy Negenborn, a maritime and transport technology professor at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands.

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