- Digitalisation has transformed maritime industries during a time when operations have been restricted through the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Up until 2022, geostationary satellites dominated maritime VSAT as the main solution for delivering high-speed connectivity to shipping.
- More autonomous ships are coming over this decade to reduce human risks, but there are still questions whether computers can be better trusted to make the right decisions in all situations.
Five key trends that will impact maritime communications and digitalisation in 2022 include LEO and 5G connectivity, remote and real-time monitoring, artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous shipping, says an article published on Riviera website.
Digitalisation in maritime industry
Digitalisation has transformed maritime industries during a time when operations have been restricted through the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Shipping companies have adapted to requirements for more remote operations, changing business practices and have met a rising demand for crew welfare services as seafarers remained trapped on board for longer due to ongoing travel restrictions.
The crew-change crisis and evolution of online management has pushed vessel owners, operators and superintendents into the cloud for data analysis and other digitalisation services.
Here they will remain in the coming years to help develop sustainable solutions for decarbonisation and to reduce operating expenditure using internet of things (IoT) and applications enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, driven through faster communications at sea and better connectivity for vessels.
Trends in maritime communications & vessel optimisation services to prepare for in 2022
LEO communications launched
Up until 2022, geostationary satellites dominated maritime VSAT as the main solution for delivering high-speed connectivity to shipping. But this is changing, as investment in low earth orbit (LEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) constellations is expanding vessel communications.
LEO satellites through Iridium have provided reliable L-band services during the past decade and seen rising bandwidths, but they are unable to compete in bandwidth with VSAT.
OneWeb’s investment in Ka-band connectivity over a new LEO constellation is changing that. It has already launched 358 satellites and expects to begin commercial testing in 2022.
Within a year, there will be more than 650 satellites, including in-orbit spares, in the constellation, providing global connectivity with lower latency than geostationary satellites can deliver.
OneWeb will offer latency of just 70 milliseconds (ms) compared with 180 ms of MEO satellites and over 600 ms for communications over geosynchronous orbiting units.
This is an important factor for using cloud-based services, adopting new digitalisation applications and implementing autonomous vessels.
SES is advancing its MEO constellation with O3b mPower satellites due to be launched in 2022 to provide Gbps of bandwidth, mainly for cruise ships, naval flotillas and accommodation centres.
Inmarsat is also investing in the Global Xpress (GX) constellation, with new satellites coming in 2022 to more than double capacity. It has just shipped the first of its sixth-generation satellites (GX6A) to Japan ready for its launch and commissioning in Q1 2022.
This will be followed by GX6B in 2022 which will join five others in the existing constellation delivering Ka-band satellite communications to maritime and offshore clients.
Data-driven routes to decarbonisation
Political and social pressures will force the shipping industry to decarbonise in the next decade. Although IMO ultimately wants to drive maritime industries into either net-zero or carbon-neutral operations, shipping companies will need to drastically cut emissions. In the long term, this will come from cutting the use of carbon-based fuels.
But developing alternative and sustainable fuels is difficult and expensive, and maritime industries may not be able to adopt these new fuels until 2040.
This is likely to be too long for legislators and authorities. They want action earlier, and are pushing the shipping sector to reduce emissions within a few years.
Banks and insurers will also add to the pressure as they look to follow the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in future investments.
Shipowners, operators and managers need to cut emissions fast from their existing fleets if they are to survive in the long term. Digitalisation can help by providing data analytics to demonstrate the impact of operational efficiencies, monitoring fuel consumption and reporting emissions cuts to authorities.
Smart technologies and data-driven approaches can help to cut consumption and technology can support regulatory compliance.
Digitalisation will be needed throughout the industry for shipping to lower emissions and demonstrate it is ahead of the game in meeting IMO’s carbon intensity index and energy-cutting requirements, which are coming into force in 12 months’ time.
These technologies and trends will be discussed in depth during Riviera Maritime Media’s upcoming Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week from 25 January 2022.
5G enables smart ports and smarter ships
Investment in 5G mobile phone networks worldwide will radically change communications – in some nations these are already available.
As more of these networks are commissioned in coastal areas and in ports, they will take over from 4G and long-term evolution (LTE) communications, bringing more opportunities in ports for rapid communications between assets, service vessels, visiting ships and, most importantly, people working in harbours and terminals.
Coastal mobile phone networks can provide faster and lower-cost communications to shipowners, operators, managers and seafarers for applications such as crew welfare and operational data transfers.
These networks can be used to upload and download information such as electronic navigational chart updates, weather forecasts and condition-monitoring data.
Internet and social media applications can also be used by seafarers using 4G/LTE services or 5G when available.
The expanded bandwidth and reduced communications costs that come with 5G will enable real-time monitoring, video conferencing and development of smart ports, driving adoption of just-in-time port arrival solutions and intelligent dispatch of port service vessels, pilots and harbour tugs.
The position and intention of incoming and outgoing ships will be universally available, reducing the risk of collisions and improving navigational safety.
Ultimately, 5G communications links will lead to smart ports where every service is delivered on time, and smarter ships, with vessel masters able to access far more useful information and alerts.
AI and machine learning drive smart vessel maintenance
Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an increasingly useful tool in shipping operations for improving navigation safety and enabling predictive maintenance.
When linked to machine learning and adaptive algorithms, AI can provide advanced insight into performance, condition and outcomes of ship machinery, systems and whole vessels.
These are evolving technologies, with hardware and software elements learning how to mimic human capacity for observing, understanding and decision-making.
AI is expected to play a major role in future maritime operations, such as autonomous systems for safer navigation in low-visibility conditions. This technology can be used for collision avoidance, to reduce fuel consumption and emissions and optimise routes for just-in-time port arrival.
AI and machine learning’s greatest impacts are in ship and equipment maintenance. The digital revolution has unlocked the vast potential of predictive maintenance and spawned an array of data-driven digital solutions.
The challenge for vessel operators is to identify the most appropriate solutions for smarter, fleetwide and vessel maintenance.
Combining AI with human expertise and machine learning algorithms enables smart maintenance, which can predict when machinery issues will lead to a failures – and then recommend the optimal maintenance procedure prior to these problems occurring.
The right smart vessel maintenance programme will balance vessel availability and earning potential with regulatory, class and manufacturer requirements for safe and reliable vessel operations.
It will combine real-time monitoring, predictive diagnostics, IoT-based smart maintenance and in-time parts availability for optimal maintenance management and reduced drydocking expenditure.
All this is made available through AI working alongside machine learning technologies to minimise costs for shipowners and managers.
Autonomous ships go from trial to operation
Autonomous ships are finally here. The world’s first electric and self-propelled container ship, Yara Birkeland, departed for its maiden voyage in the Oslo fjord in November 2021, heralding the era of maritime autonomy.
It was developed in collaboration with Kongsberg Group and built by Vard in Norway for fertiliser producer Yara. After trials and tests, Yara Birkeland will be in commercial operation from 2022.
It will transport mineral fertiliser between Porsgrunn and Brevik, Norway and will contribute to significant emissions reductions during transport – as it will cut 1,000 tonnes of CO2 and replace 40,000 trips by diesel-powered trucks a year.
There will be a two-year testing period of the technology that will make Yara Birkeland self-propelled, and finally certified as an autonomous, all-electric container ship.
This ship is operated from Maasterlys’ monitoring and operation’s centre in Horten, Norway. Massterly is a joint venture between Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen.
This world first is set to be replicated by shipping lines conscious of reducing emissions in markets.
Massterly and Kongsberg are currently involved in a project to equip two new fully electric autonomous cargo ships for Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO. Due for delivery in 2022, the vessels will replace 2M km worth of lorry transport to eliminate 5,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
These vessels will be way ahead of anything else in terms of autonomous technology, demonstrating what is possible.
Other demonstrations have used autonomous navigation technology on tugs to showcase remote control capabilities and test hazard avoidance. These trials will prove technology, enabling them to be applied on larger vessels and merchant ships.
More autonomous ships are coming over this decade to reduce human risks, but there are still questions whether computers can be better trusted to make the right decisions in all situations.
There are also questions over whether autonomous ships will be reliable enough to be operated unmanned across oceans and in congested shipping lanes.
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