Rolls-Royce reveals autonomous naval vessel powered by artificial intelligence

A sketch of Rolls Royce's planned autonomous navy ship.


By NATHAN BOMEY | USA Today (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 12, 2017

Engineering giant Rolls-Royce plans to make an autonomous navy ship, powered by artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors and advanced propulsion, for sale to militaries throughout the world.

The British company, known for its aircraft engines and luxury automotive heritage, revealed a concept version of the naval vessel in multiple photos released Tuesday.

Amid increasing concern among some technologists about the prospect of self-aware artificial intelligence systems becoming a threat to humanity, Rolls-Royce said it was already conducting "significant analysis of potential cyber risks" to "ensure end-to-end security."

With range of 3,500 nautical miles, the 60-meter-long Rolls-Royce vessel would be able to operate on its own without human intervention for more than 100 days.

Its missions could include patrol and surveillance, fleet watch or sea mine detection. Drones could help the ship accomplish its missions. The company made no mention of combat actions.

Exact timing of the ship was not immediately clear. But the company said it "expects to see the introduction of medium-sized unmanned platforms, particularly in leading navies" within about the next 10 years.

“Rolls-Royce is seeing interest from major navies in autonomous, rather than remote controlled, ships," said Benjamin Thorp, Rolls-Royce general manager of naval electrics, automation and control, in a statement. "Such ships offer a way to deliver increased operational capability, reduce the risk to crew and cut both operating and build costs."

The company said the autonomous ship would run on electrical propulsion derived from diesel engines or gas engines. It would also have solar panels for standby power.

Rolls-Royce has about 50,000 employees in 50 countries and serves many industries, including aerospace, marine and power systems.

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