Space travel may be exciting, and self-driving cars certainly get a lot of hype.

However, there remains a good argument that the world’s oceans – and the ships that roam them – often get overlooked when it comes to advances in transportation technology.

How will shipping change in the coming years, and what trends can we look to for guidance on the future of shipping?

The Future of Shipping

Today’s infographic comes to us from Futurism, and it gives examples of ships already in production – or in the concept phase – that aim to make activity on the world’s oceans greener and more autonomous.

Image: Futurism

How does the future of shipping shape up?

There are two main trends that emerge from these upcoming ships: an increased use of alternative energy and higher levels of automation.

Greener Ships

Fuel accounts for about half of the operating costs of the shipping industry – so the type of fuel used to move ships between ports is paramount. Since the 1960s, heavy fuel oil (HFO) has been the dominant choice for the industry. It’s cheap and plentiful, but it’s also extremely dirty.

Shipping today only produces 3% of carbon dioxide emissions – but it’s areas like sulphur (15% of global total) and particulate emissions (11% of total) that are considered a bigger problem.

As a result, the industry is not only moving to use cleaner oil-based fuels – but some companies are aiming to use alternative energy as well. In the ships above, you’ll see the addition of LNG and fuel cells, as well as the use of solar and wind to help power the future of shipping.

More Autonomous Ships

Ships won’t only be powered differently – they will be navigated and steered using artificial intelligence along with the aid of commercial drones.

Rolls-Royce is building an autonomous smart ship right now with Google that will monitor its surroundings in intense detail, while making autonomous decisions on the deep seas.

"Autonomous shipping is the future of the maritime industry. As disruptive as the smartphone, the smart ship will revolutionize the landscape of ship design and operations"

– Mikael Mäkinen, President, Rolls-Royce Marine

Implementing this technology on the high seas has a longer development cycle than that for autonomous vehicles, but that doesn’t mean the idea is dead in the water.

It just means we’ll have to wait a little longer to see the future of shipping in action – and for now, the prospect of viewing all of the world’s ships in real-time will just have to suffice.