How are AI and big data transforming the maritime industry?

March 5, 2021

Image courtesy of Martin Vorel

Over the past decade, a myriad of industries and sectors have increasingly used data collection and artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline many aspects of their business. The maritime industry is no different. Leveraging AI and big data can pave the way to improved efficiency and productivity.

AI is essentially a computer system designed to perform tasks that are normally performed by humans. Tasks such as pattern recognition, decision making, and visual perception can all be accomplished with AI. However, AI is the only one capable of processing Big Data, the large volume of information produced daily by business activities.

Much like the adoption of new technologies, the process of integrating AI and big data into an industry often follows increasing attention in academic research. A recent article written by Ziaul H. Munim and others, published in Maritime policy and management, have analyzed maritime research over the past decade to find trends in the direction of research. For the maritime industry, one of the main applications of AI and big data has been digital transformation.

The authors point out in their conclusion that while technological innovation and development is necessary in the maritime industry, the existence of new technologies does not necessarily mean that they will be fully utilized. Innovation creates new challenges and has broad implications for all stakeholder groups, such as its culture, business structure and legislation. For something to be widely adopted by the industry as a whole, “technology development (must be) balanced with stronger research into these issues”.

Outside of academia, it’s easy to see how AI and big data are driving innovation in the maritime industry. new technology like maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS), increase cellular and wireless coverage for ships and crew at sea, and the growth of the Internet of thinges (IoT) on ships all rely on collecting data and using AI to keep innovating and staying ahead of the competition.

The maritime industry has become increasingly digital with new technologies and related data production. Now more than ever, digitalization of communication channels is needed to keep up with innovation and maintain streamlined productivity. A major innovation is the expansion of wireless communications technology for ships and crew.

Companies like MVG and its 4G NeptuLink system contribute to bringing high-speed offshore connectivity to a wide range of ships. These types of services are an integral part of ship maintenance with an increasing number of IoT on board. The IoT is a connected system of mechanical and digital machines, such as specialized computer chips for tracking shipping cases, with the ability to transfer data over a network.

The large amounts of data produced by the IoT can be used to better meet regulatory requirements such as emission caps, increase the efficiency of ship management, or predict ship maintenance. Big data collection also plays a major role in the development and production of MASS that can be safely exploited.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has conducted a fact finding exercise to understand how it can safely integrate MASS Technologyfollowing a push from IMO member states in 2017. Their scoping exercise aims to understand the impact of the introduction of this technology on industry and regulation.

MASS technology is still in its infancy with some limited trials. Fully autonomous container ships are still far in the future. When MASS technology becomes more widespread, the IMO predicts that MASS will largely be limited to short journeys.

In 2018, Rolls Royce and Finnish state-owned ferry operator finferries successfully demonstrated the world’s first fully autonomous ferrythe Falcon. the car ferry sailed from Parainen to Nauvo, south of Turku, Finland, along an established ferry route. The first stage was carried out autonomously and then remotely controlled by the captain during the return trip. During the autonomous stage, the ship successfully bypassed obstacles and docked without human intervention.

AI and big data have been driving the digitalization of many sectors of the maritime industry, such as communication methods, the growth of IoT on board ships and the increasing development of new and innovative technologies. As the maritime industry continues to digitize, AI and big data are expected to remain front and center as businesses strive to streamline efficiency and stay competitive.

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