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Smart Ships

The Internet of Things is the evolution of the internet, as we know it, towards a network where everyday objects are connected to the internet – sending and receiving data, talking to each other, such as smart watches and mobile phones.

Soon, our ships could become smart ships.

Technology like smart paints that ‘talk’ will revolutionise shipping by allowing us to understand, in real time, how the ship is responding to internal and external stresses. Combined with other technologies, all the information collected will lead to better decision making, enhanced performance, productivity and safety.

Maintenance will be made easier as we move away from fixed interval checks to proactive, tailored maintenance – saving money and lives. Lessons learnt from the data collected during maritime incidents also has the potential to revolutionise the design and construction of new ships.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation, in its Foresight Review of Big Data, reported that classification societies have already started to consider so called “data-centric engineering”, which puts data at the core of engineering design to improve the performance, safety, reliability and efficiency of vessels.

With the cost of smart materials and technologies continually falling, the barriers to entry are also getting lower, with some early adopters expected to be taking advantage of increased efficiencies in one or two years’ time. Realistically, widespread gains are unlikely to impact on the entire shipping industry for at least the next one or two decades.

The current malaise in the global economy, and its knock-on effect on shipping, is expected to delay the arrival of smart ships furthermore. This is in parallel to a change in mind set, which is may prove the biggest hurdle to adoption in a notoriously conservative industry like shipping.

Education is perhaps the biggest factor influencing the successful introduction of smart ships. Will the next generation of seafarers have the necessary skills? The cultural and organisational changes required for smart shipping to blossom must be complimented by the appropriate knowledge, tools, skills and practices.

The future looks smart then, no? Well, it all depends on what we do with this data – ultimately, the success of smart ships depends not on when they are introduced but how well the data is collected, interpreted and used.

Crucially, who (or what) is responsible for interpreting and responding to this data will also determine what types of ships are at sea and the competence level required from future seafarers.

MTI Network will be watching and waiting with interest.

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