Skip to main content

The world’s first crewless cargo ship will launch next year

The world’s first crewless cargo ship will launch next year


The $25 million vessel will be fully autonomous by 2020

Share this story

A render of the Yara Birkeland
A render of the Yara Birkeland
Image: Yara

The world’s first crewless, automated cargo ship will launch in 2018, reports the Wall Street Journal, and is expected to be fully autonomous by 2020. The Norwegian-built Yara Birkeland will use GPS, radar, cameras, and sensors to navigate itself around other boat traffic and dock on its own. It’s anticipated to cost around $25 million, which is about three times as much as a standard container ship of the same size. But investors say without the need for fuel or crew, annual operating costs would be cut by up to 90 percent. The vessel will become autonomous in stages, Yara said.

“Yara Birkeland will initially operate as a manned vessel, moving to remote operation in 2019 and expected to be capable of performing fully autonomous operations from 2020,” the company said in a post on its website from May.

The 100-container Birkeland is being jointly developed by agriculture firm Yara International and technology company Kongsberg Gruppen. It’s been dubbed the “Tesla of the Seas,” and is scheduled in late 2018 to start delivering fertilizer from a production facility to the port of Larvik about 37 miles away.

Tesla of the Seas

Yara’s head of production Petter Ostbo told The Wall Street Journal the company would look to invest in bigger ships and use them for longer routes once international regulations are in place for crewless vessels. “Maybe even move our fertilizer from Holland all the way to Brazil,” he said.

Yara said its new vessel will also cut emissions. The company plans to reduce air pollutants while improving road safety by removing up to 40,000 truck journeys in populated urban areas.

“We want to go zero emission,” Ostbo said. “Even if some say climate change is not reality, it’s a business reality because clean sources of energy are more affordable than fossil fuels.”

Update July 31st 9:20 AM ET: This article has been updated to clarify that the Yara Birkeland is the first automated crewless ship designed to transport cargo. SpaceX has its own set of automated ships created for rocket landings.