Software Skipper; November 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Robert Patton; 2 Page(s)
A convoy steams through the icy waters of the North Atlantic, much the way convoys did 50 years ago carrying needed goods to overseas friends and allies. But this convoy, except for the flagship, is totally unmanned. All navigation functions have been automated. Inputs from radar, Doppler sonar and satellite navigation systems are analyzed by artificial intelligence, compared with digitized chart and course data, and any necessary course corrections are made by the ship. If other vessels are met on the high seas or in restricted channels, evasive maneuvers are carried out automatically, and when the danger is past, the convoy is placed back on its optimized course.
The skeleton crew on the flagship has little to do. Its presence is mostly a concession to out-of-date maritime regulations that require human control of critical functions. No such convoys ply the seas today, but according to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in Tokyo, much of the technology that could make such a scenario possible is already in place.