USV Maxlimer, an unmanned 12m surface vessel, is about to begin a 35-day voyage from Canada to England which will see it guided by a skipper in a control station in the UK.
“It’s like a utility pick-up vehicle of the sea – robust and adaptable with a huge range,” says Ben Simpson, managing director of Sea-Kit International, which has built the craft.
“In harbour the vessel is operated by a hand-held remote control, while at sea it can stream live data to the controller via multiple satellite links.
“Remote-control technology becoming available is very similar to what you’d find on the bridge of a ship – and in many ways it’s a lot more comprehensive.
“USV Maxlimer’s onshore controller can actually see all the way round the horizon in near real-time, while on many ships it’s very difficult to even see what’s behind you from the bridge.”
Simpson believes the future for unmanned vessels is looking particularly good at the moment because it will remove humans from harm’s way and reduce environmental impact.
“You don’t need a bridge, you don’t need a galley, you don’t need water supplies, and you don’t need air conditioning – so suddenly the size of your vessel becomes a fraction of other vessels,” he says.
“That combination of size reduction and hybrid diesel-electric propulsion will cut average fuel use by around 95 per cent.”