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UK identifies transformational technologies for 2030 in commercial shipping, ocean space exploitation and naval operations

A team from Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and the University of Southampton in the U.K, has looked towards the future of technology and provided a glimpse of the future these evolving technologies may provide by 2030 in their report “Global Marine Technology Trends 2030.”

As humanity is faced with challenges, such as consequences of climate change, increasing population and depletion of resources, technologies will play a key part in further development of humankind. Their roles may be classified into protecting the people, protecting the environment, and providing for the people.

The speed of innovation is rapid and the introduction of new technologies is swift, which means that predicting which technologies will transform commercial shipping, ocean space exploitation and naval operations is always a challenge.

As LR’s Marine Marketing Director, Luis Benito explains, “The marine world in 2030 will be a connected and digital one, bringing closer integration between people, software and hardware in a way that could transform the way we operate. We know technology is changing our world and there is a great deal of overlap between technologies and how they combine will be important.”

Marco Ryan, who is the Chief Digital Officer & Executive Vice-President of Wärtsilä Corporation. Ryan said at Nor-Shipping 2017: “Digital disruption is already affecting the marine sector and will do so increasingly in the future. There is today a subtle, yet significant, shift in thinking at all levels of the industry as we move from closed systems to more modular, secure, and interoperable products and solutions.”

The report identifies two groups of technology drivers – those that will transform the ship design and build space – leading to advancement in ship building, propulsion and powering and the development of smart ships; and the technologies that drive safety, commercial and operational performance – advanced materials, big data analytics, communications, sensors and robotics.

Commercial Ships of 2030 Will Be Smart Green and Connected

The future poses many challenges but also opens many new opportunities. The emerging shift of geopolitical configurations and trade fragmentation has resulted in a competition between nations at sea. While this development will pose threats to peace and stability, new business opportunities are likely to open up for naval suppliers as a result of the increased demand for naval systems of all sorts.

The future commercial ships will be smart ships, they shall transition from digital ships to intelligent ships to Autonomous ships, and they will be data driven, greener, with flexible powering options, fully connected wirelessly onboard and digitally connected through global satellites. Robotics, sensors, big data analytics, propulsion and powering, advanced materials, smart ship, shipbuilding, and communication technologies are transformational technologies in the commercial sector.


Ocean space exploitation

With the explosion of consumption demanded by the growing middle classes from developing countries, the demand for raw materials, food and energy production will increase. With land-based resources depleting rapidly, attention will necessarily turn to ocean space for alternatives; efforts here will require sustainable technologies to protect the environment.

Some of the advanced and sustainable technologies that will become necessary to harvest these ocean resources are big data analytics, advanced materials, autonomous systems, sensors and communication, sustainable energy generation, carbon capture and storage, marine biotechnology and deep ocean mining are transformational in nature when used individually and when combined.

These technologies will provide a deep understanding of the ocean space which may be used to help address the effects of climate change, the reduction of land-based resources, and the increasing population. Through the use of these technologies, we can better protect people living in coastal areas from extreme natural forces such as hurricanes and tsunamis. They can also be used to protect the ocean environment from excess exploitation and misuse as we gain a deeper understanding of the impact of human activity on the geology, meteorology and ecology of the ocean space.


Naval Operations

The Navy’s ability to project military power is directly dependent on gaining full-spectrum battle space access, including cyberspace, and on the capacity to coerce, deter and intervene in its warfighting role to protect national interests. This capability shall require transformational technologies like big data analytics, advanced materials, autonomous systems, advanced manufacturing, energy management, cyber and electronic warfare, human–computer interaction and human augmentation technologies.

There is little doubt that advances in science and technology will continue to transform the marine sectors of commercial shipping, naval and ocean space operations. These will enable us to become more secure, safer, more competitive and more sustainable to meet the demands from the stakeholders and to protect the planet for future generations.


Marine technologies 2030

These 18 technologies are robotics, sensors, big data analytics, propulsion and powering, advanced materials, smart ship, autonomous systems, advanced manufacturing, sustainable energy generation, shipbuilding, carbon capture and storage, energy management, cyber and electronic warfare, marine biotechnology, human–computer interaction, deep ocean mining, human augmentation, and communication.

Advanced materials: the nano scale

While metals will remain the dominant force for ship structures, there will be an opportunity to refine their characteristics through what is known as microscale or nano-scale manipulation. For example, implementing magnesium or calcium nano-particles could strengthen welds, while a new anti-corrosion coating will be used to better protect vessels.

There is also the chance for shipping companies to improve sustainability and fuel economy by using advanced high-strength steel, aluminium, glass fibre and carbon-fibre composites.

GMTT 2030 also mentions the possibility of  self-cleaning and self-repairing materials, higher structural and fire protection performance, biobased materials based on sustainable sources like bacteria, waste plants, reduce energy consumption through surfaces that improve hydrodynamic efficiency, HVAC systems.


Big data analytics

With more and more data being collected from sources such as oceanographic data, communication and navigation, maritime accident data, inspection and maintenance, material performance and inventory and personal information, one question is: how can this be analysed and used to to improve ship operations? The evolution of big data analytics creates the ability to use algorithms to look at correlations between the different forms of data, with the report claiming that “when the correlation is spotted, new algorithms will be established and applied automatically”.

Despite the advantages of more data and better analysis, the issue of cybersecurity and data protection remains. Data will have to be kept secure from malicious cyber attacks.


Robotics: reducing human interaction

The report predicts that by 2030 three new types of robots will be used in commercial shipping: a learning robot; one that can handle an asset – dubbed a practical robot; and a mini-robot, potentially used for inspections in harsh environments, for example to identify and record emissions and pollutants.

These robots are likely to be developed alongside sensors and remote control technologies. Robots shall have cognitive capabilities in terms of attention, dialogue, perception, memory and decision making. Versatile to be able to swim, fly  and climb functions. Ability to carry out tasks autonomously, ability to operate in sub tropical and arctic regions, battery operated,  wirelessly communicate with other networks. Sensing like teaching, speaking, touching and listening senses will enhance robot capabilities. Imitation like arms inspired by octopus or articulations inspired by human fingers will provide a full range of capabilities.

GMTT 2030 states that robotic technologies will “integrate assets with other emerging technologies” such as big data and the Internet of Things, and will reduce human interaction with dangerous processes.

There is also a point to be made on recruitment in the industry. The report asserts that the reduction of human interaction will be a growing trend in the future, opening up more possibilities for robotics.


Sensors: wireless monitoring

A new generation of sensor technologies will remove the need for regular visits to remote locations. Sensors  integrated into hulls, engine room, cargo and bridge, will be able to collect data autonomously and then relay this information in real time.

Capturing this data will allow shipowners to improve overall maintenance cycles of vessels, including condition monitoring and condition-based monitoring. For example, the sensors will be able to notify shipowners when a piece of equipment requires maintenance.

A wireless network of sensors will need to be miniaturised and have self-calibration characteristics, among others, the report points out. However, as with big data analytics, cybersecurity will need to be at the top of the agenda in the area of wireless technology.


Communications: the connected ship

The growth in communications – from WiFi to 5G connectivity – will see the birth of the ‘connected’ ship. This ship will allow operators to access live audio as well as HD and 3D video from on-board recording devices, and remove the need for physical on-board surveys. In future the spectrum of communications shall cover from VLF, LF, MF….UHF, SHF, EHF to Thz.

In what is currently a hotly debated topic, the report says that real-time decision making in ship management and autonomous operation will also be feasible.

As well as this, enhancements in communications from ship to shore could improve crew welfare, according to the report.


Smart Ships

Technology is now available to create ‘smart ships’. Here data can be collected to deliver predictive and pre-emptive insights. An example is with GE’s SeaStream Insight. This provides real-time data about the operational state of ships, and such data can be transmitted remotely to shore to allow for more detailed analysis as required.

A second GE platform is Marine Mapper which tracks and monitors ships to provide full visibility on any given fleet. Such technologies also allow shipping crews to carry out maintenance tasks as required, avoiding unnecessary work and downtime.


Power and propulsion: new technologies

Power generation will change dramatically, with alternative fuels, energy-saving devices, renewable energy and hybrid power generation all potentially playing their part. GMTT 2030 describes the challenges as being two-fold: environmental and commercial, including rising fuel costs and fleet overcapacity.

Use of distillates (MGO) and low sulfur heavy fuel oil, start of  adoption of LNG as marine fuel .

Testing of these new technologies – which could include diesel electric and hybrid propulsion – will most likely start in short-sea ships, tugs, offshore support vessels, yachts and inland waterway vessels.

With climate change worries, GMTT 2030 says that future governmental carbon policies could increase the use of alternative fuels such as  fuel cells with hydrogen or methanol, Bio-diesel and nuclear energy.



Autonomous Vehicles and Ships

Autonomous vehicles are appearing in many transport-related industries, including the air and automotive sectors. Their use in the maritime sector will continue to increase, says the report, to the point where autonomous surface and underwater vessels are viewed as just another aspect of the industry.

These vehicles will greatly change the way in which those in the industry explore, monitor and interact with their environment. From a commercial point of view, the vehicles will be cost-efficient and widely used in deep ocean mining and oil and gas operations.

There will be a mixture of underwater, surface and even air vehicles, all of which will be fitted with marine renewable energy-harvesting devices, advanced propulsion systems, and sensing and communication capabilities.

Shipbuilding will entail higher level of automation, software integration, data visualization,  additive manufacturing and adaptive hull form with less / no ballast design. In the short term technology will utilize enhanced automation and system autonomy, to aid human crews. In the longer-term it is likely that cargo ships will float the seas without any personnel on-board, simply being controlled from inland.


 The Technomax era

The scenarios in GMTT 2030 – dubbed Technomax – are “about technology uptake”, says Brown.

As an example, a Technomax LNG carrier will be built from advanced materials such as graphene to make the vessel lighter, while graphene sensors detect traces of pollutants and emissions.

A Technomax container ship in 2030 is envisioned to have on-board data analytics machines, connected to onshore decision-support systems, which will manage maintenance, navigation and communications, enabling it to be a ‘smart’ ship.

There is also talk of a bulk carrier using hybrid LNG marine diesel fuels mixed with biofuels as its main drive for propulsion.

“In GMTT 2030, the scenarios are about the Technomax, rather than economic scenarios in the future. It has not been about what the future will or could look like, but trying to understand the forces that will shape our futures,” explains Brown.

With Brown admitting that the transformation could come sooner rather than later, it is certainly an uncertain, yet exciting time for the industry. “It’s going to be interesting to see,” he concludes.


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