Speaking at an Autonomous Ship Symposium in Amsterdam, Rolls-Royce Vice President of Marine Innovation, Oskar Levander said the technology is already in place.
"This is happening. It's not if, it's when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist.
We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade."
Levander said testing is underway in Finland and the group has already created a simulated autonomous ship control system.
The 6.6 million euro ($7.3 million) project is due to run until 2017 and has drawn on smartphones, aviation drones and driverless cars to help develop unmanned ships.
Highlighted advantages of an autonomous ship include the weight, space and cost saving of removing accommodation quarters.
It's suggested the extra space created would be given up to allow increase cargo load.