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A data-driven revolution

Big data #3: Technology transforming shipping

As if to shake off its reputation as a low-tech sector, the maritime industry is embracing big data. Shipping companies are harnessing information captured from onboard sensors to improve maintenance and ship design. And the trend’s positive effect on shipping does not end there.

Caught in the middle of a crisis, the maritime industry is under constant pressure to reduce expenditure. One way it can achieve this is by enhancing fuel efficiency. Through sensors installed on vessels, companies are adapting ship design to cut fuel consumption in the long term. However, another technology is having a more instant impact.

Guidance from above

The automated identification system (AIS)—a constellation of satellites that monitor vessels at sea—allows shipping companies to optimize route planning. With constant access to live, precise information, captains can steer clear of extreme weather conditions and navigate tricky areas. Avoiding obstacles that could hinder their progress or even cause an accident, ships are safer, more fuel efficient, and less prone to oil spills. This in turn helps companies conform to ever-stricter environmental regulations.

Furthermore, the AIS identifies stretches of ocean where the threat of piracy is particularly high. Using this information, navigators can map their routes to minimize the risk of attack, thereby helping to protect both their investment and crew.

Going it alone

Big data is already improving safety and efficiency in the maritime industry, but its most significant contribution is yet to come. Self-piloting ships will use sensor data to navigate oceans and transport goods without a single person on board. Able to independently determine the optimal route, autonomous vessels should consume less fuel. And by providing more room for cargo, they also promise to be more profitable than manned ships. Moreover, should the concept prove successful, it would see the number of annual marine casualties fall dramatically.

Bright skies on the horizon

Although unmanned vessels remain a work-in-progress, they are a strong indicator of big data’s potential to bring the maritime industry into the digital age. Indeed, the transformation is already underway; big data and the technologies that leverage it are guiding shipping towards a safer, greener, and more efficient future.

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