Maritime transformation – technologies impacting the shipping sector

Maritime has traditionally been a slow sector to adapt to digital technologies and adopt new ways of working – but 2018 looks like being the year that changes. What technologies can we expect to see have the biggest impact on maritime?

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI can help maritime companies save time and money by automating processes and tasks. For example, maritime is creating applications that will enable autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) to navigate without human control or management. Japanese company Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) is testing Rolls-Royce’s intelligent awareness system in its vessels, which combines data from onboard sensors with information from bridge systems to make vessels safer as well as simpler and more efficient to operate.

Deep learning

Deep learning complements AI, and just as technology giants like Amazon and Google are using deeper levels of machine learning to understand customers, sectors and ways of working better, the technology can have significant implications for maritime. Amazon’s graphical processing units use deep learning and Google has developed neural networks which would both transform maritime’s new generation of operations hubs, such as the one opened by Thome Group in Singapore near the end of 2017 and those being developed by onboard system suppliers like ABB, Wärtsilä and Rolls-Royce.

Autonomous surface vessels

Autonomous vehicles have appeared in other industries, such as in oil and gas where remote sites can now be mined more safely by autonomous drills and trucks. 2018 could be the year autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) go mainstream in maritime, paving the way for fully autonomous shipping in future. Smaller ASVs are already being used for maintenance of other vessels in potentially hazardous environments and also for surveying cables on the seabed, removing the need for putting humans at risk, while the UK Ship Register recently signed its first ever unmanned vessel to the flag.

According to Gerald Lee, Head of IoT Integration Practice and Service Delivery at Orange Business, “Digital really driving great change in maritime, and in Singapore right now automation is contributing hugely to the building of the world’s first mega port. Autonomous surface vessels will be a big part of that and digital is changing port and maritime operations beyond recognition – the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) recently announced a $100 million injection of investment into automated and digital tools for the industry. These are exciting times for observers of technology in maritime”.


The distributed ledger technology has the potential to revolutionize supply chain logistics and cargo trade in the maritime sector. Shipping companies can use digital currencies and payments for procuring products and trading cargos, and blockchain can underpin it and help make it a mainstream method of transacting. This year has already seen Maersk and IBM design end-to-end solutions for maritime that give all stakeholders a single dashboard view of where cargo is and allow authorities to give electronic approval for its movement. It could save the maritime industry billions of dollars.

Augmented reality (AR)

New maritime AR applications are emerging all the time. The European Union (EU) has already funded a €6.5 million project for AR bridge systems designed to improve navigation safety and efficiency on ships, and it can also enable greater flexibility, operational mobility and more. AR depictions of ships could mean the end of screens and monitors on a bridge, meaning ship inspectors would no longer need to take masses of additional equipment with them and since the ship could be inspected remotely using AR. AR enables better information delivery to crew members and reduced risk, and Rolls-Royce is already using AR technology in its remote operating center demonstrator in Copenhagen, Denmark. 2018 should see the first AR application on a commercial ship.

Virtual reality (VR)

VR processes can enhance maritime companies’ training programs and also improve ship design techniques and engineering process design by enabling evaluation of ship interiors remotely and virtually. In 2015 the BIMCO/ICS survey forecast a shortfall of around 16,500 officers in maritime but a need for an additional 147,500 officers by 2025 to service the world merchant fleet. VR will play a major, increasing role in training these new officers.


Drones have great potential in maritime. In Singapore for example, the world’s first fully autonomous port is set to have automated cranes operating, some of them up to 9 stories tall. Drones will be used for maintenance and monitoring of these cranes, able to feed their data back to engineers on the ground in real time. Tug operator Kotug is already testing drones for connecting towing ropes between tugs and ships, while drones can also play a key role in testing ship emissions.
“These are fascinating times in the maritime industry, and as a long-term technology worker, and it is great to see the massive potential and opportunities digital is bringing to a largely traditional sector” concluded Gerald Lee.

To read more about the potential for digital technology applications in the maritime industry and how Orange is helping transform the transport sector in general, please visit:
Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.