AI and data set to transform maritime industry

a ship surrounded by lines to illustrate tech and AI and data encompassing marine strategy

The pace of change is accelerating, writes Mike Collier, business development manager for the MARSS Group, which means AI and data are already having high implications for shipping.

When thinking about the maritime industry, it’s easy to be swept up by a sense of romanticism.

Seafaring is, and will continue to be, an artform defined by a freedom to roam, with skills and knowledge being passed through the generations. And, while some vessel operators are constantly pushing at the forefront of technology there are others for whom a respect for traditions has made them more hesitant than others to depart from the established ways of doing things.

However, even the most conservative of mariners is starting to be swept up by the digital tide and the pace of change is accelerating.

Digital solutions are penetrating industries which are steeped in tradition and history, like maritime, and over the coming decades we can expect to see a rapid acceleration of seafaring transformation driven by data, automation and smart technologies.

While full autonomy may still be many decades away, crews will shrink as operations move ashore. Data-driven efficiencies from predictive analytics, optimised routing and preventive maintenance will reduce costs and environmental impact. State-of-the-art situational awareness and safety systems will make voyages more secure.

As costs shrink, our seas get smarter and voyages become increasingly secure, this could mark a new era of opportunity and growth in global shipping, with companies launching ever more vehicles and our seas bustling with new activity.

Thus, advances in technology are driving change and smart solutions, which are transforming other industries, have become increasingly difficult for maritime stakeholders to ignore.

So, just how ‘smart’ will it get? How far (and fast) will maritime operations be transformed?

Data will be leveraged to realise efficiency gains

The future of maritime will be centred around data.

One of the biggest opportunities for a smarter maritime future is properly leveraging the immense amounts of data already being collected by shipping companies.

At the moment many firms are amassing huge datasets from ships’ sensors, systems and equipment – but they may not be making the most of this information overload.

Over the coming decades, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies will allow maritime organisations to more effectively analyse and derive insights from their data stockpiles.

For example, by applying AI to key data sources like noon reports, companies can optimise operations for maximum efficiency. Predictive analytics, meanwhile, can be used to make smarter routing decisions that minimise fuel usage based on weather, currents and other variables. Data-driven maintenance regimes can reduce equipment downtime and costly repairs, and vessel operators can also uncover patterns in their data to identify and eliminate operational inefficiencies by pinpointing bottlenecks and pain points – such as port space.

As data science capabilities mature, the maritime industry will have powerful new tools to increase productivity, reduce expenses, and shrink its environmental footprint through improved efficiency.

AI means fewer people at sea

The drive for efficiency will inevitably lead to reduced crew sizes over the next 30 years. As more vessel data is streamed to shore-side teams for monitoring and analysis, there will be less need for large onboard crews.

This will allow shipping companies to reduce personnel costs, which represent a major expense given the requirements for highly trained and credentialed seafarers.

Recently Kongsberg Maritime announced that it has received Approval in Principle from the regulators to move the role of the Chief Engineer from the ship to a shore-based control centre, which will eventually see a huge number of roles leave vessels.

However, with leaner crews, maritime operators must get smarter about crew training, human-machine interfaces, workload management and operational resilience. While technologies open the door to smaller teams, this also introduces new human risks that must be carefully managed. Maintaining safety and readiness with skeleton crews will require innovative approaches.

AI marine autopilots will get smarter, but won’t fully take over (yet)

That said, I do not envisage a maritime system based on full autonomy in the near future.

While autopilot and autonomous navigation systems will certainly get smarter, ships are incredibly complex vessels that will still require human oversight for the foreseeable future.

Even as autopilots advance, ships demand constant care, maintenance and human intervention that cutting-edge technology cannot [yet] fully replace. Additionally, the ships being built today have long lifespans of 20-30 years, meaning much of the existing fleet won’t be compatible with comprehensive automation until these are retired.

Nonetheless, we can expect to see autopilot systems taking on ever more roles as they evolve to become more capable platforms.

Data means situational awareness and safety at sea will be state-of-the-art

Technology is also helping to make seafaring safer, both for crews and passengers aboard vessels of all shapes and sizes.

Platforms such as MARSS’s NiDAR (which integrates with the vessels’ existing cameras and navigational systems to feed into a single tactical picture and is used by superyachts for security) for example, are pooling data from different sensors to create a single, intuitive picture, delivering highly advanced situational awareness and protection across surface and air domains.

Automated man-overboard systems are also enhancing marine safety. For example, MARSS’ MOBtronic ensures the instant detection, classification and rescue support of a human falling overboard a vessel or maritime structure, and is already deployed across several cruise fleets.

Indeed, as detection systems become recognised as reliable systems, the maritime industry will be compelled to install them across all vessels. It is easy to foresee, in 30 years’ time, that every seafaring vessel over a certain size will be running a man-overboard detection system. And, as these systems become ever smarter, these same platforms could be used to detect other activities, such as illegal dumping to protect the environment.

More information about the MARSS Group is available from its website.

Comments are closed.

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

Skip to content