How Technology Is Poised to Shape the Future of the Boating Industry

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With the influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR), the marine and boating industries are booming—from both a recreational and a scientific standpoint. In April 2018, a Norwegian marine solutions company successfully tested auto-docking on a passenger ship. By November, it was already testing for fully autonomous docking to docking.

According to the company, “The ferry was able to leave the dock, manoeuvre out of the harbour, sail to the next port of call, manoeuvre through the harbour entrance, and dock alongside the terminal – all without human intervention. It is believed to be the first ever attempt at fully automated dock-to-dock operation, in complete hands-off mode, for a vessel of this size.”

Today, artificial intelligence within the marine industry is developing at a rapid rate—particularly when it comes to underwater vessels. Just like the auto industry has begun prepping the roads for self-driving cars, the boating industry is also gearing up for autonomy. Through sophisticated AI systems, global fleets would be able to reduce instances of human error, improve efficiency, optimize routes, and cut down on emissions.

The recreational sector is experiencing a boom of its own. Recreational boating is becoming less of a hobby reserved for the rich: according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), 72% of Americans who own boats have household incomes of less than $100,000. Just last month, The Progressive Insurance New England Boat Show set an attendance record, with more than 50,000 attendees in all segments of the boating industry.

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Boat owners now have a slew of resources at their disposal. Many consumers are looking into chartering or purchasing their own boats and researching top boating blogs to help steer them in the right direction. On the other hand, consumers who have little knowledge of the industry can gain a better understanding via the growing number of boating experience companies that are launching around the world, like Yacht Week and Sailing Collective.

Virtual reality tours will help take recreational boating a step further by offering boat owners the opportunity to tour vessels before taking a trip to see or purchase in person.

This is a very exciting time in the boating industry. Virtual reality tours are changing our industry’s sales landscape by opening up new ways for clients to showcase and sell their boats,” Vincent Finetti, CEO of Prestige Vision told Boating Industry.

And it’s not just the experience of buying boats which is changing. With virtual reality technology, the experience of building them is shifting, too. Bart Bouwhuis, the creative director at yacht design studio Vripack, said, “After years and years of very low incremental growth the recent developments in Virtual Reality are exponential now and allow us to use this tool for our reviews instead of making mockups, prototypes and pre-fabrication. So the cost related to that as well as the time consumption is now fully eliminated. It’s part of history.”

Several other marine technology startups are hoping to disrupt the traditional maritime industry with AI and robotics. The city of Boston alone has become a central area for marine technology startups. While technology companies in Norway are already moving full-steam ahead, startups like Sea Machine Robotics are also blazing their own trail.

The company develops computer systems for workboats, making them remote-controllable or fully autonomous. The company started out with a $90,000 used Coast Guard bought purchased at auction, and managed to successfully outfit it with cameras, radar systems, GPS, sensors, and other proprietary technology to help it sail forward on its own.

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In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Michael Johnson, Sea Machines’ CEO said, “the long-term potential for self-driving boats involves teams of autonomous vessels working in concert. In many harbours, multiple tugs bring in large container ships, communicating either through radio or by a whistle. That could be replaced by software controlling all the boats as a single system.”

Technology in the marine industry continues to extend beyond autonomous and recreational use. There are several ways boating technology can be applied to real-world applications, like disaster assistance and rescue relief. For instance, Sharkspotter is a company in Australia that utilizes a combination of real-time imagery and a fleet of aerial drones to scan seas near popular beach areas. Each image is analyzed by artificial intelligence systems, which detects potential threats in areas near humans. If a threat is detected, an automatic alert is sent to responders on the ground.

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