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Analyzing the economic benefit of unmanned autonomous ships

An exploratory cost-comparison between an autonomous and a conventional bulk carrier
: Kretschmann, Lutz; Burmeister, Hans-Christoph; Jahn, Carlos


Research in Transportation Business & Management 25 (2017), S.76-86
ISSN: 2210-5395
Fraunhofer IML ()
Unmanned autonomous ships; autonomous naviagation; cost; economics; shipping; comparative cost-benefit analysis; cost of shipping; economics of shipping

Unmanned autonomous ships are seen as a key element of a competitive and sustainable European shippingindustry in future. But even if the technology to further automate ships will principally be available at somepoint, this does not imply that autonomous vessels are also the superior choice for the ship owner. In the end thesuccess of autonomous vessels depends on their impact on the profitability of shipping companies. Following astructured approach this paper analyzes the costs of running an autonomous bulker and compares them against aconventional vessel in a cost-benefit analysis. Hereby it provides insights on the (economic) benefit of autonomousvessels for a first-time. Results principally confirm an economic potential. The expected present value ofcost of owning and operating the autonomous bulker over a 25-year period is mUSD 4.3 lower than for aconventionally manned ship. Assuming identical cargo carrying capacity this means that the required freight rateof the autonomous bulker which produces a zero net present value is 3.4% lower than the required freight rate ofthe conventional vessel. This advantageousness is based on one aspect in particular as the paper argues. Besidescost savings associated with reducing crew levels an autonomous ship brings along additional benefits due tochanges in ship design.