I don't know whether controlling a fleet of enormous, self-piloting cargo ships will actually be this cool in the real world, but credit where credit's due: Rolls-Royce (the industrial conglomerate, not the automaker) has made it seem like pure science fiction. And it's only a few years away from reality, allegedly.
The company has been touting the benefits of autonomous freighters for some time, but it just unveiled a bunch of concept artwork as part of a whitepaper presented at a symposium in Amsterdam last week. Remote operators are depicted as workers in a futuristic command center, complete with holograms, Minority Report-style user interfaces, and a captain's throne fit for Jean-Luc Picard himself. My suspicion is that the real command center will end up looking a lot less like the bridge of the Enterprise and more like an anonymous office building like any other, but I appreciate the creativity nonetheless.
Rolls-Royce's VP of Innovation for the marine division assures that remote-controlled ships will see commercial applications "by the end of the decade," and the sensors and systems that will be used by such ships are already in testing with operators.
Will they actually make it before fully self-driving cars do, then? Looks that way — but I'm not betting on the holograms.