The global economy has been radically transformed in the centuries since European navigators first hit the seas in search of new trading opportunities. But for all the changes since then, the seas remain at the centre of global trade. The UN reports that 90 percent of international trade is carried out by the water, with no other mode of transportable to compete on cost-effectiveness.
As a linchpin of international commerce, the maritime industry must be able to operate efficiently. For ports to properly function, maritime operators must be able to precisely schedule their ships’ journeys – and, no less important, the ships must be able to adhere to those schedules. A ships failure to arrive on time impacts not only the port and shipping company but the entire chain of recipients, leading to price increases and shortages on items ranging from tomatoes to iPhones.
Given the wide range of difficult-to-navigate situations ships encounter on the seas – weather events, congestion, and other obstacles – sticking to shipping schedules can be a significant challenge. But with trade accounting for about three-fifths of global GDP, according to the World Bank, the maritime industry can ill-afford to be complacent about delays.
To overcome obstacles to successful performance, the maritime industry will require navigation and collision-avoidance systems that will enable crews to safely navigate in challenging scenarios. Greater adoption of these solutions can help propel the industry to greater efficiency and safety – provided that they’re reliable and designed with the end user’s most critical needs in mind.
Maritime stakeholders are all too aware of the need for a change. In the first half of 2018, vessel schedule integrity at major U.S. ports plunged to as low as 34 percent, only climbing to about 70 percent during their best months.
The key culprit? Weather problems – and the ensuing difficulties in effectively planning logistics. With global climate patterns projected to only grow more volatile, not less, such poor performance could soon become the norm, unless the industry invests in innovation.
But which technologies will help the maritime industry chart a viable path forward?
Improved Navigation, Improved Schedule Adherence
Similar to how many mobility experts see autonomous vehicles as the solution to a myriad of transportation challenges on land, a growing number of shipping companies are pinning their hopes for a more efficient industry on autonomous ships. The problem? Fully autonomous shipping technology remains years away.
But with existing navigation systems falling short in hard-to-navigate situations, resulting in delays that could threaten the performance of the global economy, simply waiting for full autonomy isn’t an acceptable option. The maritime industry’s current predicament calls for the development of technological solutions designed to help ships effectively navigate dangerous waterways and adhere to their schedules.
The need is especially urgent in light of recent trends in shipping routes. Global climate change has made once-unviable trade routes – i.e., in the Arctic – viable, resulting in a 40 percent increase in cargo volumes in the region in 2017, according to an Allianz report. As Arctic waters become increasingly crowded, maritime incidents are on the rise, with a 29 percent year-over-year increase from 2016 to 2017. Current methods of avoiding collisions come with their own costs; as ships look to prevent clashes with icebergs, extreme weather conditions, and other vessels, they are often forced to deviate from their designated courses and reduce speeds.
To operate with security and efficiency, ships need systems that provide crews with visibility and advance hazard warning in challenging scenarios; such systems would make even the harshest nights at sea easier and safer to navigate while contributing to a substantial reduction in delays and collisions.
The widespread adoption of these tools will enable ports to optimize their operations, improve the on-time delivery of goods, and facilitate the continued growth of commerce and the global economy.
In order to function optimally, these systems must be designed to withstand the often-harsh physical toll the water can take and be easy to use for operators, with clear, digestible information when relevant.
Moreover, new technological solutions must secure the trust of crews, which will only be possible if the tools provide clear, immediate value, and demonstrate their ability to help ships safely and efficiently navigate in adverse conditions. No less important, new systems must be able to improve in real-time, leveraging both training and real-world data to manage difficult situations that vex both current systems and experienced crews, such as navigating congested areas.
The forecast is unmistakably clear: Shipping lanes are only slated to grow more crowded, and shipping routes prone to extreme weather and hard-to-navigate scenarios are only going to become more commonplace. In this climate, technology must be part of the answer, and the solutions deployed must deliver tangible value to the end user.
For maritime operators, a safe arrival at port is the most crucial priority for ships, followed closely by schedule integrity. Advanced technology can help ensure both – and the industry won’t need to wait for self-driving ships to get there.
Author – By Yarden Gross, CEO and Co-founder Orca AI