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Maritime technologies that are changing the industry in 2019 and beyond

maritime tech

The shipping industry is known for its slow response to change. However, in the past years, there have been many aspects of digital disruption and transformations that are modernising maritime sectors, making them more efficient, collaborative and sustainable. They will be impacting shipping for years to come. Here are 14 terms for maritime technology that are changing the industry and are here to stay.

Artificial intelligence (AI) – “intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans”, such as problem-solving. It is expected that the common use of AI in shipping will lead to reduced staffing and maintenance, better navigation and increased safety by reducing human error. The latter accounts for between 75% and 96% of maritime accidents, according to a recent study. Established companies such as CMA CGM and Kongsberg have been partnering with tech giants like IBM’s Watson and Google to develop the autonomy of the shipping sector. There are also several start-ups such as Sea Machine Robotics, Nautilus, Super Radio or Flexport. There have been calls for AI to stand for Augmented Intelligence, removing some of the popular negative biases associated with artificial intelligence and emphasising the role of human intelligence and how this technology can enhance rather than replace it.

Autonomous vessel – a vessel which can navigate unmanned using robotic technologies. IMO defined 4 different degrees of autonomy:

1.        First degree - vessel with automated processes, but onboard seafarers operate this and are ready to take control

2.       Second degree - remotely controlled vessel with seafarers on board

3.       Third degree - remotely controlled vessel with no crew on board

4.      Fourth degree - fully autonomous vessel

With the autonomous ships market expected to grow from $6.1bn in 2018 to $13.8bn by 2030, IMO is now looking into proposals of how the MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships) sector could and should be regulated according to these levels.

Big data - refers to diverse, complex and large sets of data, which can be structured and analysed to increase understanding of trends and patterns, predict behaviour and ultimately deliver business results. Recent moves towards smart shipping means companies have increasingly turn to big data. For example, Ship Data Center was established in 2015 as a subsidiary of ClassNK to gather data from various vessels from Japanese shipping companies to monitor voyages and hull structure. Read 5 ways that big data is making the shipping industry more intelligent.

However, there is still massive fragmentation within the sector due to companies being very protective of their data, which is prohibiting the connection of elements across the supply chain. As a panel explained during a Lloyd’s List discussion: “Innovation is now judged by its capacity to cut costs and not by its potential to transform a business model.”

Blockchain – a ledger of digital records (blocks) stored in a public database (chain), which is leading the way to a safer and more transparent maritime environment, by reducing errors and better preventing fraud.

There have been many tests done by shipping companies in partnership with big technology companies like Microsoft and IBM. Possibly the most popular is the A.P. Moller- Maersk / IBM partnership, Trade Lens, which has over 94 organisations involved in driving open standards and efficiencies.

Ethereum, which was developed in 2013, refers to the blockchain-based distributed computing platform and operating system that since 2018 has been facilitating smart contract functionality whereby the documents’ flow is automated.

Bot – (shortened form of the word “robot”) refers to a programme that runs automatically and in a repetitive way or is commanded to behave in a certain manner following input.

“The use of chatbots for simple help in electronic transactions and operations are the low-hanging fruit right now, followed by the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in more complex areas such as global trade compliance.”, says Inna Kuznetsova, President & COO, INTTRA.

Cloud computing – either public to everyone or private to a limited audience, refers to the delivery of shared services (such as email, databases, storage or software) that exist remotely, outside local servers or personal devices via the internet. Their use can lead to cost savings, increased speed, performance or security. Only this month, Wallem Group announced it will be using cloud-based software to streamline workflows across its ship agency business.

Cybersecurity – the interconnectedness of systems has led to easier access to data and bigger risk of being compromised. There are actions that organisations can take to protect themselves such as improving passwords and changing these regularly, providing cyber training and performing regular IT checks. In recent times, malware, ransomware, spear-phishing have been increasingly affecting ports across the world.

Digital twin – a computer programme that delivers a virtual and dynamic replica of a physical object or system. It’s employed for simulations to gather insight and identify issues or non-optimal performance before implementation by using the Internet of Things (IoT), AI and big data. IBM used this for their digitalisation project in the Port of Rotterdam to test scenarios and understand where efficiencies can be achieved. In addition, a predictive twin helps predict behaviour based on historical data.

Digitalisation – using digital advancements to enhance or transform the way a business operates and the services they provide, which relies on strategic innovation and the availability and quality of data. The recent consolidations in the dry bulk and container industries means companies are now increasingly looking at efficiencies. The future of the maritime industry must be digitally informed and as such digital cultures within maritime organisations will lead to fundamental shifts.

Digitalisation is sometimes referred to as digitisation, which is the process of taking analog information and translating it into information that can be read by a computer.

Drone – Unmanned aerial systems or vehicles controlled remotely, which are being used by maritime sectors to gather information, surveillance, but also to load, offload and deliver goods. This is expected to significantly reduce shipping costs in the future.

IoT – the system of devices that are interconnected through sensors would not normally be expected to have internet access, for example a lightbulb or thermostat. They use the internet to collect data, communicate and share data with each other in real-time. Computers or smartphones are not considered part of IoT. Connected ships are already helping with the design and operation of the ships and can make the industry more competitive by improving communication between off- and onshore, driving route and fuel consumption optimisation and cutting costs. In a 2018 survey, 65% of respondents said they already use IoT to monitor fuel consumption, expected to rise to 100% by 2023. On the other hand, the unreliability of internet access in unfavourable weather conditions and cybersecurity concerns are making some players reluctant to implementing IoT-based solutions.

Alongside IoT and cloud computing, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technologies are improving ship connectivity and allowing data to be transferred in more cost-effective ways. Other maritime communications applications, such as L-band, 3G, 4G and more recently 5G technologies are successfully being used to improve decision-making speed and ultimately performance, with the Port of Qindao in Asia and Port of Hamburg in Europe partnering with China Unicom/ Ericsson and Deutsche Telekom / Nokia, respectively to lead the way.

Machine learning - enabling machines with AI to learn and perform tasks better by progressively adding data, relying on patterns and inference. Due to the overreliance on manual inputs, the maritime industry is often seen as fallen behind in implementing ML.

Robotics or robotic technologies – robotics is a branch of technology that deals with the design, building and operation of robots, which are partly or fully autonomous. Artificially intelligent robots are an intersection of AI and robotics. For example, the concept of autonomous vessels relies heavily on robotic technologies. Other applications include the cleaning of hulls and performing some surveying tasks.

Smart shipping – the implementation of smart technology to improve the overall ship management performance and operations across the entire supply chain.

Cooperation between maritime professionals and the benefits brought by these technologies can lead to a more efficient and safer sector. What terms would you add to the list? To learn more about digital shipping, have a look at our courses that can help you improve your digital shipping knowledge.