Shipping is a vital part of global trade. It has always, and continues to be, the most cost-effective way of transporting cargo around the world.
Being such an integral part of global trade means that adoption of new technologies is not something the industry takes lightly. Previously, this hasn’t been an issue, as those technological developments themselves (steam engines, satellite navigation etc) have taken years to develop.
However, in the modern age, the industry has been left behind in many ways by the rapid pace of change. But why? I believe it can be pinned to a number of reasons.
Stringent regulations from the IMO is one. Another is the fear of becoming more susceptible to new threats, such as ‘cyber pirates’. Another is just the sheer size of the industry and the companies involved. Small changes could be the difference between billions in profit or loss. So, adopting radical new technology is no mean feat.
I specialise in the maritime and shipping industry and I’m pleased to say that things are changing. The industry is starting to embrace change and catch up. In this article I’ve outlined a few companies that are adopting or creating game changing tech that can change the face of the industry.
Rolls Royce are going all in on autonomous or, ‘smart’ ships. Their President of Marine, Mikael Mäkinen, had this to say on the subject:
“Autonomous shipping is the future of the maritime industry. As disruptive as the smartphone, the smart ship will revolutionise the landscape of ship design and operations.”
A real statement of intent.
That being said, Rolls Royce admit there are a many difficulties to overcome. A truly ‘smart’ ship would have to possess the ability to make decisions, monitor its’ health and be able to navigate the complex maritime legal frameworks that any vessel must negotiate whilst at sea.
What’s more, those frameworks are in no way tailored or adapted to smart or autonomous ships, which causes further headaches.
Rolls Royce are optimistic. They predict that fully autonomous and unmanned ocean-going ships will be operational by 2035, with the first remote controlled vessel hitting international waters as early as 2025.
The benefits to implanting this idea at scale are numerous and significant. Which is why the eyes of the industry are watching pioneers like Rolls Royce closely to see what comes next.
Kongsberg are recognised as a world leader in communications and control software. They have an extremely successful history of providing autonomous underwater vehicles and missile systems and are bringing their technical nous to the shipping sector.
Last year, the final design of the Yara Birkeland was revealed. This is the first fully autonomous, zero emissions container vessel and is expected to begin autonomous operations as soon as 2020.
Yara are a global specialist in agricultural products and have collaborated with Kongsberg to create a vessel which they estimate will eliminate 40,000 road journeys between their plants.
Thus far, a six metre, 2.4-ton model has begun testing with a firm yet to be selected to carry out the final build.
Kongsberg are also involved in remotely operated fireboats in ports, passenger ferries and other areas. They also have the luxury of having four autonomous test areas for their shipping technology, given to them by the Norwegian Coastal Authority.
They’re sure to have a major part to play in the future of the maritime sector.
As one of the many start-ups influencing the market, Sea Machines have produced a range of autonomous control systems for commercial vessels. With pilot programmes running in 2018, their specialism is in controlling unmanned vessels to improve productivity and efficiency as well as ensuring safe operations in hazardous environments.
Working at sea, by definition, is dangerous and innovations from Sea Machines can save both financial and human costs.
Sea Machines have recently been hired by shipping giant Maersk for the world’s first AI-powered situational awareness system aboard a container ship. An endorsement from an industry giant like Maersk means that Sea Machines are one to watch in future.
VesselBot claim to have taken the pain out of chartering cargo vessels. They’ve created a platform which enables charterers and vessel owners to register and identify the best match for them.
This promises to cure many headaches. The current process is arduous, time consuming and can involve reviewing thousands of emails from brokers just to identify a shortlist of prospective matches.
With VesselBot, vessel owners can be connected with new customers straightaway, cutting out the sometimes-painful BD process in a crowded market. They’re also able to identify the quality and identity of the charterers with VesselBot’s rating system.
For the charterer, the benefits are straightforward. They can easily find an available vessel which meets their required specifications and has a quality guarantee attached to it.
Should industry wide adoption of VesselBot occur in future (and why wouldn’t it?) the broker and chartering industry could be turned on its’ head.
I believe these four companies represent a great cross section of everything exciting that’s going on in the shipping and maritime space. After looking at businesses like these producing the technology and platforms that they are, it’s safe to say that the traditionally ‘old school’ shipping industry is going full steam ahead into the future.
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