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Maritime digital trends in a post Covid world

As part of London International Shipping Week 2021, Mike Tinmouth, cofounder at ACUA Ocean, joined a range of investment managers, CEOs and maritime figureheads to discuss:

What impact has Covid-19 had on maritime digitalisation? Get a real insight into the latest trends and findings from Inmarsat's new digital research, updates on the UK’s progress towards the Maritime 2050 strategy and discover more about the leading tech trends and who’s leading the innovation race in 2021.

COVID-19 and a (semi) autonomous world

COVID-19 demonstrated the maritime industry's overwrought reliance on crewed solutions and its general lack of resilience to global challenges; including the displacement of crew and cargo across the globe.

On top of this, we have the growing threat of climate change and the urgent need for service providers to comply with clean maritime initiatives, which are starting as soon as 2025. This will involve substantial vessel redesign, changes to business models and the reconfiguration of supply chains. With global impact events like a pandemic likely to become the new norm, uncrewed or reduced crewed operations provide hopeful opportunities for the the industry to react to a world in a constant state of change and sea change, whilst remaining dynamic in the face of we need to be prepared for those challenges resulting from increased autonomy and cybersecurity.

The maritime sector is poised for an unprecedented digital boom, as both traditional marine operators and investors wake up to the opportunities that digitisation provides. Research conducted for maritime consultancy firm Thetius shows that, to date, maritime digitisation has been largely focussed on logistical and communication optimisation and integration of AI for the likes of collision avoidance. However, we expect this to change considerably in the next 12-18 months as three key trends emerge:

1. Vessel systems automation

A renewed focus on autonomy in the vessels’ internal systems - specifically around predictive maintenance and the performance of equipment, as well as the optimisation of power systems.

By predicting costly failures, we can reduce operational downtime, which is particularly critical for uncrewed vessels, where failure at sea is not an option. Increased reliability means increased offshore endurance and the ability to perform larger and more complex tasks. Endurance is a function of reliability, not just of power and presence. For USVs to be successful they need to be functional for sustained periods of time, and this has been one of the key barriers to the adoption of USV technology.

2. From person in the loop to person on the loop

We are currently conducting research with Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute and Lloyds Register to better understand how to augment operator decisionmaking. The ability to optimise operator loads, ensuring scalable levels of operators to vessels in congested waterways (vs open ocean) without increasing risk.

The ability to operate swarms at scale will hugely reduce operation costs and will unlock a force multiplier effect and economic value that is currently inaccessible due to the high costs of operating at sea. Thus, the modus operandi of having a person physically in the loop of vessels can be shifted to having a person on the loop of vessels, in other words monitoring and operating a fleet from another location, to both the benefit of said person’s health and indeed to the benefit of both logistical and economic interests.

3. Multi-domain and system integration

In terms of defence, it is important to recognise the risks present in our oceans, or rather to understand our oceans as an interface of coalescing risks and threats: to national security, to traditional and subsea infrastructure, and indeed to the environment. Indeed, it is crucial to recognise that the maritime sphere doesn’t operate alone, and that conflicts and threats now encompasses not only land, sea and air, but also space and cyber security.

The integration of multiple systems into a single platform is an obvious and effective answer. With USVs, the autonomous technology used for collision avoidance can also incorporate sensors for marine mammal detection, and indeed greater AI for threat and anomaly detection. With seamless provisions of information to both vessel operators and end clients, open sea vessels can at last make the move from data and insights to actual intelligence. The intelligence collected by multiple vessels thus increases the reliability, accuracy and strength of decision making by those operating the vessels.

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