Drone barges were self-piloting starships controlled by an installed command/control module or droid brain. They were popular with haulage firms, as they were significantly cheaper to run than using vessels that required a crew, and were regularly used on simple routes when supervision was not necessary.
These drones had no individual personality programming and had only enough intelligence to calculate simple hyperspace jumps, locate guidance beacons when arriving at a port and run self-diagnostic checks on cargo and engine systems. While this was cheaper than hiring a sentient crew, drone barges were more vulnerable to navigational error, hyperdrive failure and even outright piracy.
Since drone barges were not designed to accommodate organic life forms, these vessels were not equipped with living quarters and life-support systems. Their cramped corridors only had the first gulps of planetary atmosphere that entered the vessel during freight loading or unloading. Despite these, many desperate people would stowaway onboard these drone barges knowing the impending risks for various reasons.
This type of starship was produced by several companies including predominantly droid manufacturers like Cybot Galactica or ship-building corporations like Gallofree Yards, Inc. and Corellian Engineering Corporation. The latter company (Corellian Engineering Corporation) was noted for manufacturing the gigantic StarHauler-class which included more than 24 different versions.
Drone barges were used for a variety of tasks including the transportation of goods including grain from Orron III or ice blocks from Ohann and the disposal of massive amounts of industrial waste churned out by shipyards on industrial worlds like Corellia, Fondor and Kuat. A considerable number of these starships were also hijacked or sabotaged by pirates or shipjackers, knowing the vessel's vulnerability and that their actions were unlikely to be recorded by the authorities.
As a youth, Han Solo once stowed away on board a transport that had been converted to a drone barge; luckily for him that particular vessel still maintained a limited atmosphere. Tanith Shire – a supply-tug operator at the Fondor shipyards – regularly sabotaged these vessels by reprogramming their control systems to exit hyperspace prematurely and crash-land on the remote desert world of Ophideraan where their cargo and electronic systems would be plundered by the Serpent Masters who employed her.
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