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The Modern MASS-T Head: The Rise and Reality of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships

Of modern standers-of-mast-heads we have but a lifeless set; mere stone, iron, and bronze men; who, though well capable of facing out a stiff gale, are still entirely incompetent to the business of singing out upon discovering any strange sight.

MOBY DICK, Chap. XXXV. “THE MAST-HEAD”

While driverless terrestrial vehicles have been a hot topic in the media and the blogosphere (including on this blog) – from Tesla autopilot crashes to self-driving freight trucks – there has been an equally (if not more) anticipated and analyzed trend (some would say nascent revolution) in the less popularly publicized international maritime vessel operations: the rise of autonomous vessel technologies on the world’s oceans, rivers, and harbors. The term of art for these autonomous vessels – “maritime autonomous surface ships,” “MASS” for short – is ironically cognate with the very vessel “MASters” that autonomous technology would stand to replace.

The initial forays into the possibilities of autonomous vessel technologies began (more or less) with Rolls-Royce just into the second decade of the 2000s. Since then the concept has been put to numerous actual proofs by Rolls-Royce and others, and it is safe to say that it is now not a matter of if or even when MASS technology enters the market, but rather the extent to which MASS technology will disrupt traditional global shipping and vessel operations. And while the technical advances have been steadily developing in the hands of engineers, regulators have been attempting to keep pace with the legal ramifications of MASS. (more…)

Florida Opens Its Roads to Driverless Vehicles

On June 13, Florida enacted legislation allowing cars without human drivers to begin operating on its roads. While Michigan and Texas also allow cars without human drivers to some degree, Florida has gone one step further, by prohibiting local regulations that differ from state law, essentially making all of Florida’s roads fair game for testing AVs. (more…)

Limitations of Current Semi-Autonomous Vehicles Misunderstood

According to a recent IIHS study, 27 percent of people surveyed thought it was acceptable to remove your hands from the steering wheel of L2 systems found on Supercruise-equipped Cadillacs. 48 percent thought it was acceptable to do so on Autopilot-equipped Teslas. And a startling six percent thought it was acceptable to take a nap while Autopilot was active. (more…)

Eleven Companies Propose Guiding Principles for Self-Driving Vehicles

On July 2, 2019, 11 companies (Aptiv, Audi, Baidu, BMW, Continental, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Here, Infineon, Intel, and Volkswagen) published a 157-page whitepaper (“Safety First For Automated Driving“) describing a framework for the development, testing, and validation of “safe” autonomous vehicles. The whitepaper summarizes the various levels of automated driving with the goal of developing a baseline that might one day become an industry standard. (more…)