(Businessweek) The prospects for driverless cars and aerial drones delivering packages for Amazon.com (AMZN) made headlines in 2013. But when Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce Holdings’ (RR/:LN) vice president for innovation in marine engineering, advocated drone cargo ships at an industry conference last May, the audience scoffed and other panelists dismissed the idea. The skeptics haven’t deterred the London-based maker of engines and turbines. "If everybody in the industry would say, ‘Yes, this is the way to go,’?" Levander says, "then we are too late."
Rolls-Royce has created a virtual-reality drone prototype in Norway that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge. Eventually, it says, captains on land will use similar gear to command fleets of crewless ships. Rolls-Royce figures the drones would be safer, cheaper, and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry. "Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction," says Levander.