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Rolls-Royce today announced that it would use Intel chips as it develops a global system for autonomous ships that carry cargo on the high seas.

The partnership follows the announcement last year of an ambitious timetable to have fully autonomous shipping fleets deployed by 2025. While based in the U.K., Rolls-Royce is developing the shipping technology in R&D centers located in Finland and Norway.

“Delivering these systems is all about processing, moving, and storing huge volumes of data, and that is where Intel comes in,” said Lisa Spelman, VP and general manager of the Intel Xeon processors and datacenter marketing, in a statement. “Rolls-Royce is a key driver of innovation in the shipping industry, and together we are creating the foundation for safe shipping operations around the world.”

With large cargo ships hauling almost 90 percent of the world’s goods, Rolls-Royce believes that making them autonomous, or in some cases remote-controlled, can dramatically improve safety, as well as making fleets more efficient. The effort is one of a growing number of efforts to disrupt and reinvent global logistics. But one of the biggest challenges is designing systems that can record and manage the massive amount of data such a system would generate from a ship.


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The array of visual and position sensors, plus higher-resolution cameras, will have to be processed in real time in close proximity or on the ships to avoid any lags. Rolls-Royce estimates that could generate 1TB of data per day for each ship.

To help crunch that data, Rolls-Royce says it will use Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors on ships and in specially designed datacenters. The company already uses Intel’s 3D NAND SSDs for ship data storage. As the system develops, it plans to evaluate Intel’s Optane SSDs and FPGAs for possible use, as well.

“We’re delighted to sign this agreement with Intel and look forward to working together on developing exciting new technologies and products, which will play a big part in enabling the safe operation of autonomous ships,” said Kevin Daffey, director of engineering and technology and ship intelligence, in a statement. “This collaboration can help us to develop technology that supports ship owners in the automation of their navigation and operations, reducing the opportunity for human error and allowing crews to focus on more valuable tasks.”

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is already starting to incorporate some semi-autonomous technology into shipping fleets. And last year the company demonstrated a remotely operated commercial ship in the waters off Copenhagen.

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