LITERALLY the first thing I did for Aronnax at London International Shipping week was to go and hear what Lloyd’s Register thought would be the technology trends of 2030.
That is only 15 years away, yet whenever I talk to anyone making such projections, and one may recall interviews with leading technology experts this summer, the technology that will be present seems revolutionary.
Strictly speaking, the report Global Technology Trends 2030 is a collaborative effort by LR, QinetiQ and the University of Southampton. It is the third report LR and QinetiQ have done, and the second with the university.
The latter two partners dealt with naval and ocean space (marine harvesting etc) while LR focused on the technology for commercial shipping, but there were some very common trends.
Automation, advanced communication and robotics will be the external drivers, coupled with advanced shipbuilding, the development of advanced propulsion and powering.
These are driven by technology developments outside the shipping industry that will force advanced technology trends inside it.
External factors such as developments in analytics, big data, nano-satellites and sensor advancements are becoming realities.
Sensors are being developed that are cheaper, smaller, more accurate and crucially do not require miles of expensive cabling because they are wireless.
The increase in available data from pervasive sensors gives better diagnostics and analytics of engines and machinery, and advanced control.
On a naval perspective, this benefit to situational awareness is obvious, and in ocean spaces this gives remote access to biological and chemical information without human risk. In shipping this is of course the removal of cost, and notably the cost in this instance will be crew cost.
For LR this transformative effect will be to create what it is calling the Technomax ship — see computer image, above — a vessel that is better designed and better built. Advanced shipbuilders will compete to be automated assembly plants and systems integrators.
These ships will not be ubiquitous in 2030, and LR is not saying all the ideas it has will be fulfilled — there are many technologies the class society opted not to assess for the future.
All this forward thinking is of course a good marketing tool for LR to highlight its capabilities in this kind of research. Yet one look at this potential ship of the future, and it must be made clear LR is not expecting future shipping to to look exactly like this or have all the features, in that these ships still have fairly full accommodation blocks.
When asked why the automated smart ship of the future has accommodation blocks I was told that the industry, and the public, are not ready for an image of a tanker, gas carrier or large bulk vessel without one. It seems a ship is not a ship unless it has the space for crew.
Similarly, would you sit comfortably on an aeroplane knowing that there is no cockpit and no pilot up front, even if you know that aircraft already have the capabilities to fly automatically from gate to gate without a human at the helm?
The crew of the future will be remote, fewer, but much more highly educated and therefore expensive to hire.