In our last blog we examined the cultural factors inhibiting enterprise change and wider adoption of digital technology in the maritime industry. In this edition, we consider what would be possible if those inhibitions could be overcome.
The Internet companies that have been most successful in disrupting traditional business models all share something in common. They leverage the fact that fundamentally the Internet is nothing more than a mechanism for improving the flow and exchange of information between different points.
These points might be server nodes. Or, at a more abstract level, they might be two parties in a commercial transaction. As Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, pointed out markets operate most efficiently when buyers and sellers have access to good information on which to base rational decisions.
It also seems rational that streamlining the flow of information between different network nodes in the maritime ecosystem will lead to efficiency gains. To date, these nodes – namely crew on the bridge, shore-based fleet management and technical teams, port operators, vessel traffic services personnel, training academies – have each done their best using the information they have to hand. But none have access to the complete picture.
Because traditional methods for exchanging information are burdensome and unwieldy, what gets sent is often determined according to urgency. The data is fragmented, incomplete or already obsolete. The resulting picture is grainy and low resolution. Squint and you can probably make out what is happening, but you certainly won’t be able to pick out much detail, or spot anything unusual.
The first step to improving this situation was the unanticipated deployment of AIS beyond its intended role as a navigational aid. AIS was originally designed to work in conjunction with conventional radar to reduce collision risk among vessels sailing close by. This localised role is underlined by the fact that the signal range of AIS transponders is only around 50 nautical miles.
However, the discovery that the radio signals containing AIS messages – essentially latitude-longitude and vessel name/IMO number – can be faintly detected by satellite, prompting the development of orbital global data harvesting service providers which gobble up, share or sell the intelligence.
Returning to Earth, the EU-supported Efficiensea 2 project, which will finish this April, has successfully taken e-navigation from a testbed to a reality. At its heart is a purpose-built maritime communications platform linking end-users, stakeholders and information providers. To demonstrate its functionality, researchers have built a service for delivering navigation and weather updates and alerts and created a search and rescue tool to coordinate vessels in the wake of a casualty. Moreover, they have validated the principle of route-sharing.
So, it is not by chance that reducing friction in the exchange of information between different stakeholders is a key objective in THESIS. The idea is to facilitate a single point of truth, which lets stakeholders work from the same data wherever they sit in the operational chain. Data collection is automated wherever it minimises the risk of error and duplication of effort, and eliminates obsolete or inefficient communication channels. The result is a common high-resolution picture that will transform the way vessel captains, shore-based managers, port planning teams, training providers, VTS operators and authorities all work. Facilitating greater collaboration and engendering fresh connections (like synapses in the brain) brings about new efficiencies, improves safety at sea and reduces vessel operating costs.
The second session of the Transas Global Conference 2018 is entitled the ‘Automated Operations Eco System’. Fleet operators from the merchant fleet and growing cruise sector will join innovators to review their experience of data-driven operations and share their views on the way forward. Speakers include Hapag Lloyd’s Head of Fleet Support Joern Springer, Carnival Corporation’s SVP for Maritime Quality Assurance, David Christie, and Ulf Siwe reporting from Efficiensea 2/STM Validation project. The discussion will be led by Lloyd’s List Chief Correspondent and techno-evangelist Richard Clayton.
The high-resolution data picture will do more than improve situational awareness for the bridge officers and below-deck engineers at sea tasked with steering ships safely from berth to berth. It will improve the situational awareness of all stakeholders that populate the modern maritime ecosystem. That same data picture will almost certainly form a prerequisite for remote controlled vessels currently being developed, and perhaps, one day, fully autonomous ships.