Report: AI in Maritime

By Hannah Cook

Artificial intelligence (AI)  is a transforming technology that will allow maritime companies across the maritime asset value chain not only to get ahead of the market but accelerate their digital transformation and meet the challenges of the upcoming energy transition.

Combining centuries of human experience with this rapidly emerging technology enables us to process information faster than ever before and ultimately make better decisions.

A new landmark research report, commissioned by Lloyd’s Register and written by maritime innovation consultancy Thetius, shows that while the adoption of AI in the maritime industry is still at a nascent phase and will be a learning curve, as its development will depend on the computing infrastructure and the connectivity solutions available, it is certainly moving toward industry-wide acceptance.

Good artificial intelligence is capable of performing tasks either at a fraction of the cost and time of using humans to achieve the same goal or of performing tasks that are impossible for humans to complete.

In 2022, the maritime industry is forecast to spend $931 million on artificial intelligence solutions. That figure is forecast to more than double in the next five years to $2.7 billion by 2027, a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent.

The use cases for AI in the maritime industry are wide ranging, including support for: autonomous navigation, voyage optimization, vessel monitoring (e.g., equipment health management), safety data analysis and the virtual commissioning of systems and equipment. AI can function alongside remote engineers to do this work.

The following are the key recommendations from this report:

Acquire Accurate Data: The first step to using AI effectively is to work with the right data. Some data sets can be bought, such as weather, maritime traffic or trade volumes. But data unique to a particular fleet, such as fuel consumption, will need to be collected, stored and made accessible.

The quality of the insight generated, or the decisions made by an AI system, will directly correlate to the quality of the data. Attempting to introduce AI anywhere in a ship’s operation without the right data will, at best, result in poor results. At worst, it could be dangerous.

Buy, Don’t Build: A question that faces any team on the path to adopting artificial intelligence is whether to build systems from scratch or whether to buy them from third-party service providers. The reality is that while the best approach will require a combination of both, for the vast majority of ship operators, it will be far cheaper and easier to buy access to the right algorithms, data sets or functions to make the system genuinely valuable to the team that needs it.

Leverage Outside Expertise: Though it is always preferable to build the right skill set in an in-house team, it can be useful to leverage the expertise of third parties. There is a growing range of consultancies and service providers that specialize in the development of AI systems and have maritime expertise. Though this has traditionally included specialist IT and digital consultancies, it is increasingly including bodies such as classification societies and even flag states that have invested in developing knowledge and expertise in this field.

Create a Safe Testing Environment: There are a whole host of stories of AI systems doing strange things. Sometimes this is caused by the system having access to the wrong type of data or a biased data set. Sometimes it is caused by the algorithm being incentivized incorrectly. When it comes to safety, relying on algorithms that haven’t been fully tested can be dangerous for critical items such as equipment maintenance, collision avoidance or alarm systems. This is far less likely to be an issue if you are using a system that has been evaluated and approved by a classification society.

There is no doubt that during the next decade, artificial intelligence systems will become as important as IT systems in the operation of the world’s merchant fleet. Though the path to adoption is not straightforward, it is clear that those industry stakeholders who are early movers will be able to operate ships that are more highly optimized, more highly automated and likely much safer than those in operation today. This trend is reflected in the growth of demand seen for the technology in the last two years and the forecasted growth over the next five years.

While it is certain that AI is here to stay, it will not replace the value of human intelligence–but it will augment it exponentially.

The full report details specific examples of how AI is being used within decarbonization strategies and environmental monitoring. You can download the full report here.

Hannah Cook is a marketing consultant for i4 Insight, a part of the Lloyd’s Register Maritime Performance Services Group, Fleet Optimisation Division. She is a specialist in artificial intelligence, machine learning and decarbonization. 

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