Gizmag has an epic feature about the evolution of sailing that's focused around Project GreenJet — a huge, 57 metre sailing yacht that can be controlled by one man and a touchscreen. The designer Erik Sifrer, based the design for the 57 meter Project GreenJet around his earlier SY120 Yacht that functions in a similar manner. Only this time, it bigger, faster, and more advanced.
What's cool is a boat like this would eliminate the need for the dozens of athletically-inclined sailors normally required. Instead, one (or a few) just needs to monitor weather systems and adjust accordingly via the touchscreen. The 2 sails can be raised to their 55m height in 30-40 seconds, and can also rotate 160 degrees.
Other ships, such as the Maltese Falcon, might be bigger and already do partially automated sailing to an extent, but Project GreenJet is trying to push the boundaries of automation. While still a concept, Sifrer says its a matter of time and money to get this made. Basic production calculations have already been made, and Sifrer just needs backing for this project, which will cost US$70 million and take 3-6 years to build. In theory.
My feeling is that you still need the human to make the calls. Sailing is extremely complicated and it's very difficult to read into waves, wind and current simultaneously and autonomously. It just hasn't been done yet over any great distances or challenging conditions and 3 to 6 years is far enough away that we might as well say 60 years. But who knows?