New research by maritime consultancy Thetius reveals that the thriving market for autonomous shipping technologies is now worth more than $1billion per year, and predicts that China's ambitions in the sector will make it a world leaded by 2025.
Although European countries have taken an early lead in the development of the technology, the research finds that there is a massive R&D effort going on in China – with academic institutions and private companies registering thousands of patents relating to the technology.
“Globally, there are around 3,000 patents registered for autonomous surface vessel technology – and China is by far and away the most active country for patent applicants,” says the report.
To date, there are only a small number of companies offering autonomous shipping solutions in China, but the massive amount of patent activity indicates that significant R&D funding has been made available to researchers building the next generation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) technology.
The Chinese government is highly supportive of the sector, having recently set up a 300 sq mile MASS test bed in Guangdong.
“Because most of the research is being conducted in academic institutions, we expect there to be a lag of around five years before the inventions are launched as commercial solutions,” the report explains.
“This comes at a time when the wider Chinese economy is moving away from low value manufacturing in favour of high tech manufacturing and software development.
“Additionally, China has a thriving domestic shipping market and is the largest supplier of seafarers in the world.
“The combination of the massive R&D programme, a supportive regulatory environment, and the size of China’s shipbuilding and operating markets means that it will undoubtedly be in a position to overtake European and US competitors by 2025.”