Rolls-Royce Plans New Drones: Ships The idea is in prototype but faces years of regulatory approval By John Johnson, Newser Staff Posted Feb 26, 2014 5:06 PM CST 48 comments Comments File photo of an old-fashioned cargo ship: one with with humans aboard. (Shutterstock) (Newser) – Might ship captains someday do all their work from land instead of sea? Bloomberg reports that Rolls-Royce is working on a prototype of a drone freighter ship. One advantage, financially speaking, is that such ships could carry more cargo because they wouldn't need to make room for humans and all their related needs (sewage, food, etc.) And because most ship accidents are the result of human error, proponents say unmanned ships would be safer, too. “Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction,” says a company VP. “If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.” Not surprisingly, the union that represents most of the world's maritime workers is dead-set against the idea. “It cannot and will never replace the eyes, ears, and thought processes of professional seafarers,” says an official with the International Transport Workers’ Federation. It will likely take years to get the go-ahead from regulators for an actual voyage, though Rolls-Royce hopes to be operating at least in the Baltic in another decade. So don't hold your breath, but don't rule it out, either. "At least with self-driving cars, we've seen that lawmakers have been open to letting machine-controlled systems begin testing—so long as the right safety systems are in place," notes the Verge.