A ghost in the machine ship?

It seems that kids these days with their Cyberpunk 2077 and Light Up Poop Sticks just aren’t that interested in a life on the high seas anymore. Combined with the generally declining population, it’s a big problem for the shipping industry in Japan.

So the largest company of this kind, NYK Line, has embarked on a project to begin converting their huge fleet of roughly 800 ships to autonomous vehicles. Working with a team of 30 major companies such as telecom giant NTT, the necessary equipment has already been developed and is expected to be put into practical use by 2025.

▼ A video from 2019, showing plans to have half of all ships autonomous by 2040

Experienced sailors will still be needed to plot safe and efficient routes for the ships to take, and the craft will all have a manual override in the event of an emergency. However, a full crew, which has become increasingly hard to gather, will no longer be necessary.

Readers of the news, however, wondered how these ships would be protected against the ongoing problem of piracy.

“They should lay booby-traps all over the place.”
“Wouldn’t it be safer to avoid pirates by making flying drones instead?”
“They are uploading the Luffy protocol now.”
“Waves are really powerful and hard to predict. I wonder if a machine can really handle them.”

“Put one of those Boston Dynamics killbots on board to patrol.”
“Ghost ships?!”
“It looks like it’s open season for pirates.”
“Do trucks next.”

Also, as police in Japan have been experiencing with automobile thefts recently, cybersecurity will become a crucial aspect of protecting unmanned cargo ships once they hit the oceans.

Perhaps they will learn more about how to implement it all after a trial run which will use this new system in the field for the first time. That’s scheduled to take place in February 2022, and during this experiment a container ship will run from Tokyo Bay to Ise Bay, over 300 kilometers (186 miles) away.

Security concerns aside, this will be a necessary step to adapt to the changing human resources landscape in Japan. However, it remains to be seen how the overall drop in sailors will affect traditionally ancillary industries such as bawdy humor and anchor tattoos.

Source: NHK, Otaku.com
Top image: YouTube/日本財団
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