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The intelligent ship: Defining a new reality

“I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality.” – Max Beckmann

The maritime industry is experiencing a generational shift. Digital technologies will create fresh opportunities and challenge the traditional competitive business models. To quote an example, when Apple introduced the iPhone a decade ago, it redefined the entire telecom industry and created an alternate smartphone segment. In a similar fashion, the shipping industry is on the brink of its defining moment.

Can a ship think?

Imagine the ability of a ship to decide a route based on a forecast of an upcoming storm along its path. Again, imagine another scenario where the route calculations centre on a higher yield from knowledge of real-time cargo availability, bunker pricing, and global movement of goods.

Is this a definite possibility?

In this era of the Internet of Things (IoT), the shipping industry is undergoing a major revolution, where advanced technologies can help support predictive maintenance and informed real-time decision making. The objective of the next generation SMARTShip™ solution is to accurately forecast demand and match it with supply; thereby increasing productivity, yield, and efficiency while decreasing downtime, operation costs, and wastage. Such a transformation requires state-of-the-art software and hardware support systems that can help integrate control systems, electro-mechanical systems, and computer servo systems within the ship efficiently. Safety and reliability will continue to dominate the narrative along with operational efficiency and predictability.

Opportunities and challenges

Through advanced, state-of-the-art technologies, these next generation SMART ships will have the ability to combine ship voyage information with real-time data about weather and the ocean, as well as historically available data, to make SMART decisions. Some of these novel technologies include:

  • Real-time descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics using machine learning
  • Drones for robotic tank and underwater hull inspections
  • Big data analytics to connect data from disparate systems and drive economic value

Combined with innovations in 3D printing to print key spares on board, on demand and opportunities in virtual reality that can provide the ability to “feel” the shipping ecosystem remotely, SMART ships can be an intelligent and safe solution for the current demands of the marine industry.

The maritime sector is rapidly adapting to these high tech changes. Numerous challenges still need to be overcome for across-the-board digitalisation to realise fruition. One of the biggest tasks ahead is to confront the inertia of ship owners. Digitalisation is not, ironically, 1-0 when it comes to effectiveness. It is a trajectory, and one needs to invest in adopting technology. The decision makers are often well-removed from technology, so they don’t miss what they don’t understand. Besides, the initial investment is capital intensive, and the ecosystem must evolve before standards are built.

The industry also needs to focus on cultivating top talent which is relatively hard to find in this sector. Therefore, collaboration with technology companies like ZeroNorth is a faster solution to secure the required talent pool and harness their capabilities to solve industry problems and market needs. Some of the other issues which demand significant attention are the reliability of equipment, the complexity of the installation, and a cyber secure, robust connection.


ZeroNorth’s SMARTShip™ IoT platform

ZeroNorth’s SMARTShip™ IoT platform plays a pivotal role in building solutions to enable remote control, real-time monitoring, configurable alerts, and notifications. It is connected to the cloud, and tightly integrated with a big data analytic platform while connecting all machinery and data points on board.

Thousands of data points onboard the ship are connected via local server and plugged into the cloud to activate advanced real-time M2M communication, remote monitoring, diagnosis, and guidance from the shore-based command and control centre (C3). Additionally, ZeroNorth’s big data platform uses the data from the ship in combination with publicly available data to drive insights into operational efficiency.

In addition to creating value for ship owners, ZeroNorth’s SMARTShip™ solution makes the life of crew on board safer: helping them make informed decisions, making their stay more meaningful, ensuring that there is no room for harm to the environment, and guaranteeing that people return home safely. All these milestones become achievable when the balance begins to tip for the intrepid. As the “law of diffusion of innovation” states, the early adopters here will lead the way forward.