Smaller unmanned ships attractive & environmentally friendly – Interview with Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, SINTEF Ocean

Smaller unmanned ships attractive & environmentally friendly – Interview with Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, SINTEF Ocean

Ørnulf Jan Rødseth is Senior Scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Trondheim, Norway and studies the development of transport over water with small unmanned ships. In his view, smaller unmanned ships are more economical and also environmentally friendly. He will talk at the Unmanned Cargo Ship Conference on June 13, 2017, in Venlo, The Netherlands.

“Bigger ships are more economical, simply because of their more efficient use of fuel and smaller crews required. But this has a limit as they have a draught that limits their possibilities in shallow waters,” according to Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, senior scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Trondheim, Norway. “Trondheim is the centre of a national project on testing fully or partial unmanned ships. Fully automated and smaller ships allow far more flexible transport systems. On top of that the smaller ships can be cleaner for the environment, as they make use of batteries or fuel cells. However, the ships have to be integrated into the complete transport system and the ‘last mile’ from quay to user must be incorporated.”

The Norway has a very long coastline with fjords that can penetrate sometimes hundreds of miles inland. For instance if a large ship docks in at Trondheim container terminal, it unloads its cargo which is then transported by trucks to destinations which are up to 180 km further along the coast. That is why smaller ships can be used to keep the logistic chain going. “The idea is that larger ships will serve as feeders and we intend to use the smaller ships as shuttles between terminals and smaller quays. Another challenge is that we have many small communities living along our coast. Sometimes only twenty persons live on an island, but they need a ferry on a daily basis simply to be kept alive,” tells Rødseth. “So these connections are relative expensive as the ship makes mostly only one or two runs to the island, with a full crew. On top of that they run on fuel which is not very environmental friendly. This means that the cost of transporting for instance one box of goods is very uneconomical and not good for the environment at all. If the crew could be eliminated and the boat running electrically it would be far more economical. That is the goal we hope to reach in due course.”

unmanned cargo ship

Business cases

“There are a large number of different business cases which mostly focus on a particular challenge. The size of service plays an important role, like how many trips the ferry needs to make and how many cars and passengers have to be transported. Crews are a high cost part of the operation, particularly for a small ship, which makes unmanned operation very interesting. Also the available technology plays an important role. For instance with the modern Lithium-Ion batteries, around one metric ton of batteries is needed to replace 20 kg of fuel oil. This also makes it interesting to use smaller and unmanned craft to minimize battery weight. We also need to look at new possibilities, such as placing the batteries on deck. Then they can be easily exchanged for a charged pack, which goes quicker than recharging the batteries in the ship. But anyway it takes a lot of time calculating the best possibilities in practice. These are only a few of the challenges we face. But now we have the testing facilities, this enables us to test many ideas in reality quite easy. This way we get the badly needed insight. ”

For more information and registration to the Unmanned Cargo Ship Conference, please visit

The interview was made by Jakajima, the organiser of the conference. For more interviews with speakers at Jakajima conferences, we invite you to visit Jakajima’s website

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