Now the EU's 3.5 million euro initiative to develop unmanned cargo ships is a great idea but the key thing, of course, is can they be made unhackable?
I like the idea of the Somalian pirate whizzing up in his RIB, chucking up his grappling hook, climbing on deck only to find no bridge, no wheel and no throttle. The boat just ploughs on whatever he does. Exit one frustrated Somalian.
The EU's 3.5 million initiative to develop ships which can be controlled from shore has the snappy name of Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN).
An ugly name but functionally descriptive. Next we have the problems:
- The clever little teenage oik who hacks into the control room and takes over the steering of the ship.
- Or who identifies the GPS signal used to control the ship and hacks into that.
- Or who gets into the navigation programming and hacks that.
- And then we get the NSA, GCHQ, the Russians and the Chinese watching the yards where these ships are built and ensuring that back-doors are built into the ships' controls so they can hijacked at will.
Rolls-Royce is on the case and leading the charge to unmanned ships and has produced designs for robotic ships which are currently illegal.
"Is it better to have a crew of 20 sailing in a gale in the North Sea, or say five in a control room on shore?" asks Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce's vp of innovation, engineering and technology.
More to the point is that crew costs account for 44% of the cost of operating a container ship.
The shipping industry is currently larger than the semiconductor industry at $375 billion annual revenues.
If the chip industry could strip out 44% of its operating costs then it would solve its problems.
I seem to remember Mitsubishi coming up with the idea of the humanless fab about a couple of decades back.
And the CAD people are constantly waving the chimera of high-level chip design which does the job from a description of functionality.
But there still seem to be a lot of humans in fabs and design centres.