Shipping is a traditional long-term business, you have to plan 10-15-20 years ahead, very much like the satellite business. The latest generation of Fleet Express satellites that many operators use on their vessels, were designed many years ago. The next generation of satellites are being designed and developed right now.

Given that we work in these long-term industries, we need to really use our imagination when we look so far ahead to consider what the future for our sector will look like. I will begin looking into the future by looking in the past. 1981, the first space shuttle, Columbia, blasted off from Florida to orbit the Earth 36 times over two days, six hours and twenty minutes, before returning safely to land on the 14th of April. This was a really special moment; a staggering demonstration of technological achievement.

Fast forward to the present day. The SpaceX rocket booster. It is attached to the side of a payload. For example a bunch of shiny, new iridium satellites and they blast that payload off into space. Once the payload reaches orbit, these boosters fly back to earth and perform what is called a propulsive landing, totally autonomously. These boosters are even capable of landing at sea, on what are called drone pads. Once the propulsive landing is complete, the drone pad brings the rocket back to shore again all totally autonomously.

In my lifetime we’ve gone from blasting off into space, to having our rockets returning to us all by themselves.

When I first saw these, I was truly stunned. We can today also find science fiction closer to home, for example with a  Playstation VR playset.

These technological moments highlight that we are living in an exponential world. By that, I mean that the pace of technological development is absolutely staggering and it’s accelerating rapidly.

By 2023, computing power will surpass a human being’s brain power. By 2045, computing power will be equivalent to that of every human brain combined. Computers are getting faster, but they are also getting faster. As a result, each generation has more technological achievement than the previous one. What technological achievements are on the horizon for our generation? Self-driving cars; Space tourism; Robotics?

The rate of change is continuing to increase exponentially, giving us more and more wild moments in every generation. Humanity will change more in the next 30 years, than in the previous 300.

As shipping is an industry with a traditionally long-term outlook of 10-15 years, this rate of change will have a potentially enormous impact on our industry and how we work. Just as technology has severely shaken up other traditional industries. For example, hotels have been flipped upside down by AirBNB; Uber has shaken up the taxi market. A Columbia University study found that with a fleet of just 9.000 autonomous cars, we would look at replace every taxicab in New York City and passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs just 50 cents per mile; Amazon has introduced its first delivery robots in Washington State, as it continues to disrupt the traditional shipping model and the high street store.

But what can we expect in our maritime world? What’s next for us? Drones look likely to be making impact soon. Our customer tankers recently successfully tested making deliveries to one of its vessels, using a specialized drone that is approved for explosive environments. That means that if the drone crashes it doesn’t generate any sparks, which is a critical precaution in tankers of course. Sending deliveries isn’t the only way drones can be used in our industry. The can carry out inspections of tanker cargo tanks, without the need for the cleaning steps required for human entry. Another use could be for painting holes in drydock. The typical ship may have an underwater hull area of around 60,000 square feet. Rather than the four days it would take humans to paint, drones could get the job done in one day, and without the need to put up and take down scaffolding.

What else is coming? AI based predictive positioning systems are already being trialed for shipping. This will enable computers to predict the future course and maneuvers of a vessel, giving a source of virtual time travel mechanisms to ship captains, who will be able to monitor the future positioning of a vessel in advance, which will improve situational awareness and decision-making.

2019 will also be the year that autonomous vessels will really start being tested. Shipping regulators have already been looking at which rules need to be amended to enable widespread use of autonomous ships, and there are a number of trials planned this year for autonomous tugs and ferries. In the near future, I might be able to get an autonomous Uber from the center of London toward a loose station. From there a self-driving train might take me to Dover to put me on an autonomous ferry.

In shipping, as in many other industries where technology is bringing upheaval, connectivity is the new oxygen. Although given how addicted we all are to it, perhaps it’s better to call it the new opium. The Internet of Things is changing the world rapidly and of course shipping is not immune.

At Navarino we see the growing demand for tools to manage and to benefit from the hyper connected world of big data. Digitalization is actually starting to deliver those smart ships that you’ve all heard about over the years.


Above text is an edited version of Christian Vakarelis presentation during the 2019 SMART4SEA Conference.

View his presentation herebelow:

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of  SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.

Christian Vakarelis, VP Media Communications, Navarino

Christian Vakarelis is the VP, Media Communications at Navarino. He has been with Navarino for 8 years.  Throughout Europe, and particularly in the Nordic countries, he works closely with Navarino partners, helping them to enhance their connectivity solutions and has witnessed first-hand the exponential growth in demand for advanced communication solutions. Christian holds a Masters degree in International Relations from Bristol University, and prior to joining Navarino he was based in Washington DC working for the World.