Vehicle engineering and development focuses heavily on passenger cars and light trucks, but what about other forms of transportation?

In an effort to cut congestion on its roads, the country of Norway is experimenting with the idea of autonomous, electric ships to replace large semi trucks, reports Gas2.

Not only do semi trucks clog roadways, but emissions from their diesel engines are anything but clean.

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The experiment is the product of a newfound partnership between the Norwegian Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration, which together gave rise to the Norwegian Forum For Autonomous Ships.

Its goal is to “facilitate the testing of fully or partly unmanned vessels and to exchange experience and data to facilitate the development and use of such vehicles.”

The ships Norway imagines aren't much like the ships many imagine today, however.

Concept autonomous ship guidance center

Concept autonomous ship guidance center

Since these vessels would be autonomous, their design can be re-engineered substantially.

Specifically, galleys, sleeping quarters, and common areas for crew would be eliminated for a smaller, lighter, and leaner ship.

Since the ships wouldn't be manned by a crew, engineers could effectively reimagine the transport ship's design and purpose.

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Norway's shallow waters, multiple fjords, lakes, and rivers make smaller vessels ideal.

Upon their arrival, heavy equipment would not be necessary either.

Instead, the country believes smaller piers and other related facilities would become the norm.

Rolls Royce autonomous ship concept

Rolls Royce autonomous ship concept

This would effectively eliminate the need for the huge cranes and various equipment used with large container rigs at present.

The autonomous ships would ideally be zero-emission vessels as well.

Using either batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, the crew-free ships would weigh much less and provide greater energy efficiency and a lower wells-to-propellers carbon footprint per kilometer.

On arriving at the small dock or pier, the ships would be recharged—if batteries were propelling the ship's electric motors—or its tanks of highly compressed hydrogen would be refilled before it was programmed for its next destination.

Rolls Royce autonomous cargo ship concept

Rolls Royce autonomous cargo ship concept

Similar technology to that being developed for driverless cars could easily be applied to ships, which includes the use of Lidar, short-range radar, and a slew of cameras.

The initial proposal would have the ships monitored by an on-shore crew at all times to ensure smooth sailing.

While Norway takes the lead on ships, Toyota is busy working to re-imagine road transport.

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The Japanese automaker recently revealed its Project Portal fuel-cell tractor trailer, which is propelled exclusively by hydrogen fuel cells.

The truck will begin a feasibility study this summer in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

As for the autonomous ships, the future is still unclear, but the Norwegian Forum For Autonomous Ships is keen on helping to redefine it.

[hat tip: Raymond Cooper]

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