Intel Sets Sail With Rolls-Royce On Autonomous Shipping

Over the last several years, I’ve watched Intel progressively up its game in the autonomous machines arena. It announced its entry to the scene back in 2016 with its partnership with BMW and MobilEye (which our AI analyst Karl Freund covered here), and ultimately acquired MobilEye. Last year, I got a look at Intel’s holistic, end-to-end strategy to autonomous technology at its inaugural Autonomous Driving Workshop (read my take here), which convinced me on Intel as a long-term player in the space. I then attended Intel’s “Data-Centric” Day this August where the company showed how it wanted to holistically attack the market with a basket of compute, storage and networking technologies. (read my take here.)

This brings me to Intel’s announcement today. We’ve all heard plenty about autonomous cars at this point, but one related field that gets less attention is autonomous shipping. Intel made waves today (no pun intended) with its announcement that it is partnering with Rolls-Royce on the development of autonomous shipping solutions, with the plan to deploy fully autonomous fleets by 2025 using many different Intel technologies. Let’s take a deeper look at the announcement. Shipping industry is big business Global shipping is an astoundingly huge market. It is involved in 90% of world trade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. The oceans are teaming with thousands of ships, carrying millions of containers worth of goods. The cargo being carried by the world commercial fleet in early 2017 was valued at $829 billion dollars. The container shipping industry itself made a $7 billion profit in 2017. This is big business we’re talking about. According to a study by Allianz, cited by Intel, there have been 1,129 shipping losses in the last decade, primarily because of human error. Just picture how disruptive a truly autonomous shipping vessel could potentially be in terms of efficiency and safety. A Rolls-Royce team based out of Finland and Norway is seeking to develop just such a fleet of vessels, and to do so, they’ve turned to than Intel as their trusted technology partner. A boatload of data Autonomous shipping presents very similar obstacles as autonomous driving, although bigger in scale. It requires real-time, edge processing of sensor data. These vessels must utilize LIDAR to scan for objects multiple kilometers away, in choppy seas and terrible weather conditions. These vessel’s cameras must also be best-in-class, with super high pixel counts, and the ability to see potential obstacles “in, on, and over” the water. Then of course there’s the plethora of radar, thermal, and other sensors. All of this adds up to massive, as in 1 TB-massive, amounts of data being generated every day, per vessel, that must be collected and processed. For a month-long voyage, that could tally up to 30-40 TB. To handle this huge volume of data, Rolls-Royce says it is employing Intel Xeon Scalable processors into their platforms, utilizing them on the ships themselves (in on-board data centers), and in mainland data centers. Intel says several server-class computers will be housed on board the shipping vessels to perform on-site, real-time machine learning and inference workloads—essentially turning these ships into what Intel is calling “cutting-edge floating data centers.”  Rolls-Royce’s Intelligent Awareness System utilizes Intel’s processing power to make sense of the data and make decisions based upon it. The data generated by these autonomous vessels will be stored in a “black box” akin to an airplane’s data recorder. For storage, Rolls-Royce is currently utilizing Intel’s 3D NAND SSDs, and is purportedly evaluating Intel Optane SSDs for future usage on the vessels. Lastly, Rolls-Royce says it is looking at employing Intel FPGAs for accelerating algorithm training. Yes, training. While Rolls-Royce says it will not be launching its fleet of autonomous shipping vessels until 2025, it has already successfully executed several demonstrations. It partnered with towage operator Svitzer to showcase the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel in Copenhagen harbor just last year. Additionally, it demonstrated its Intelligent Awareness system for situation monitoring, with a Japanese shipping company by the name of Mitsui O.S.K. With Intel on board, I’m sure more successful demonstrations are on the way. Wrapping up Autonomous shipping is an area where autonomous machine technologies, IoT, edge computing, and storage technology provide the potential for disruption. Shipping is a large, multi-billion-dollar industry, and it is ripe for digital transformation particularly given the need for more safety and lowering costs. Intel is a company with a broad footprint of compute, storage and networking technologies that Rolls-Royce thinks is more than capable of enabling this by selecting it as its partner. This is a good example of an Intel win leveraging a market basket of technologies and I look forward to seeing what comes of this partnership. Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.