I had a thought, that it would be pretty to do international shipping with solar powered sailboats. So I looked it up and found that robo-sailboats are a thing already, though in their infancy:
I'm struck by how this sort of thing could be within reach of hobbyists. The ideal POC would be a single-container cargo ship that could use solar power to do GPS, telemetry, and sail management. And go transatlantic or transpacific to prove it.

The solarpunk angle, to me, is that solar powered autonomous robo-shipping would be potentially a key part of enabling a 'fully automated luxury space communism' sort of economy within the existing system.
If you can go to any part of the coast, and unload any old shipping container into a DIY robo-boat, and send stuff around the world (medicines? food? books? tools? agri-produce? unassembled robo-boats?), that's very socially enabling.

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@cathal That sounds interesting, but consider how many facets of transport require human maintenance. If maritime transport is scaled down and automated, you’re likely to generate exponentially more pollution, too, as these critters go gazoo or break down. Who would tend and herd them? I’m also unconvinced that large containerization isn’t still more efficient.

What interests me are new large hybrid sail and solar ships. I want to take an ocean liner or bumbly junk around the Horn.

@Shufei I don't see this concept as a replacement for big shipping, really. But large shippers currently generate a ton of waste and pollution: if you start small and show that solar and wind can move things cleanly, it strengthens the case to clean up the bigger ships, too.
And I get that more ships could mean more waste, but I think that needs to be unpacked a bit: current ships drop containers into the sea all the time...

@Shufei ..whereas with a single-container vessel, one can assume that the container and ship are tightly junctioned/locked together, and that they have net buoyancy. So if a ship gets lost or breaks, it could be recovered by another boat or even another drone, but it would take a very bad day for it to end up sunk, I think.
Clearly, this only works for cargo that can tolerate delay or misadventure. Certainly not people. :)


@Shufei Though, as a logistical tool for moving people, there may still be some use: using drones to deliver a steady stream of fresh water and food between ships at-sea, including refugee ships searching for a port, might be a practical and useful thing.
In that sense they could even enable floating cities, which could move around seasonally and still expect a steady stream of logistically lightweight shipping.

@cathal There are good notions here, and I don’t want to discount them out of hand. They would need serious stress testing, though.

I know about the containers going overboard and agree they need work. Merging them with current lifeboat design is obviously useful. I’m still sceptical this won’t just create heaps of more rubbish. But if a standard backup radio distress and retrieval for the lil robots could be made, and mandatory global responsibility for issues, it might indeed work. >

@cathal I think the maritime legalities are nowhere near that responsibility yet. It would be nice if the robonauts would clean up old plastic, too.

Oddly, I thought of floating cities, too. Specifically David Brin, a sci-fi author whose novel Earth features a post-revolutionary floating nation of Swiss refugees. (They got nuked for harbouring capitalists.) Any such arcologies would also need some serious oversight, natch. Right now, they are likely to be extrajudicial corporate tyrannies.

@cathal I’m sure it would be interesting for people to travel in these, though. One person, at least, might pack in enough food, and if some desalination were available. That would be fun, to bumble off to Ireland in a cybercurrach.

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