The shipping industry is undergoing a technology revolution. This age-old industry which, till the last decade, was hesitant to harness new technology, has now taken up all-round modernization with a vengeance.
Today, globally, the industry as a whole is exploring and implementing new technology in all spheres of the trade. Ports, ships, systems and processes, and allied services are all getting a technological facelift. The industry’s efforts to digitize are also being aided by startups that are creating tech solutions specially for it. Technologies like Robotics, AI, machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, drones, and augmented reality are being harnessed to create a safer, efficient, and more productive environment to carry out export and import trade.
While there are many changes that are happening in the world of shipping – and all are important, here are some that have captured our interest:
Robotic Technology: Robots have infiltrated almost every industry in some way or the other. Now, they have turned their tech-eye on the shipping industry. Research institutes and companies in the automobile, transport, tech sector are collaborating to build robots that can aid in ship management, safety, servicing, and inspection.
Among these, SAFFiR – Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, being developed by the US Navy Research Lab in collaboration with Virginia Tech, has caught our interest. And, for a good reason too.
Fires on ships can cause huge damage to human life, environment, and the cargo on board. For example in the recent fire on Maersk Honam, four crew members have been reported missing and insurers are estimating a loss of millions of dollars in claims from the vessel carrying more than 15,000 TEUs.
While accidents on sea cannot be completely avoided, loss of human lives and cargo can be, to a certain extent, mitigated by fire fighting robots that are designed to take charge in such situations. SAFFiR which is currently being built for US Naval Ships would be a great addition to cargo and passenger ships as well.
Hyperloop Transport System: Hyperloop, an idea conceptualized by Elon Musk, is a transport system that is designed to carry people or cargo from one destination to another via a tube at a speed more than 700 mph.
Along with the rest of the world, this technology has also caught the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis. In February 2018, they signed an agreement with Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, to develop a hyperloop route between central Pune, New Pune International Airport, JNPT Port and Pune’s economic and industrial zones. The Hyperloop One will help facilitate quick transportation of palletized cargo and lightweight cargo between the port and industrial zones in Pune.
According to reports, the proposed hyperloop will provide benefits like reducing accidents, socio economic, savings in time and operational cost worth USD 55 billion over a time period of 30 years. It will also help reduce greenhouse gas emission by approximately 86,000 tons/year, and lessen the traffic load on the connecting expressway. In addition to all these benefits, as Virgin Hyperloop One said on the occasion of the launch, the hyperloop will cut down lead times and help build a leaner and more efficient supply chain.
Smart Ships: We have smart gadgets, smart homes, and smart cities, then why should ships be left behind? Ships are set to become smart, tech-savvy, and autonomous soon. In fact, the first smart vessel Yara Birkeland is planned to be launched this year. It is predicted to become fully autonomous by 2020.
Automated ships will add a technological edge to the shipping industry by improving efficiency, productivity, and carrying capacity. Since these ships will be remotely managed, the fear of loss of lives of crew members at sea will be eliminated and in a way it will also change the profession.
Blockchain Technology: The blockchain technology is now no longer limited to bitcoins. It is being explored by various industries to manage, transfer, and store data in a safe and secure manner. Shipping is also among the industries exploring technology to add efficiency to processes and integrate the supply chain from start to end. The system based on blockchain technology will make it easy to transfer data and track cargo in real-time till it reaches the final destination.
Augmented Reality: AR is another technology that can add immense value to the shipping industry. It can optimize cargo planning, aid maintenance and inspection, navigation, connect global teams, and also help in creating awareness about the industry which is not easily accessible to people not connected to it. For example, very rarely does a person not in the industry get to visit a container ship or for that matter the port. AR can make it possible to provide outsiders with a view of the industry.
Port360, a virtual tour of the Port of Rotterdam, is one such example of this technology being used for connecting with businesses and also educating people not connected to the world of shipping about the port and how it operates.
Image source: Port of Rotterdam. Click here to take the tour
These innovations are just the tip of the iceberg. Shipping is changing and the speed at which technology solutions are being created for the industry, it would not be wrong to term this period as a rebirth of one of the world’s oldest industries. And, we’re proud to be a part of the technology revolution that is transforming the shipping industry.