Start automating simplest things first

4 September, 2018 |

Start automating simplest things first

Fully autonomous operation means that data collection, analysis, and decision-making and implementation are all automated and driven by artificial intelligence. The level of autonomy granted is going to be the key variable as we move towards this goal, but essentially autonomous operations change the human role from active operator to supervisor. Some onboard processes are already autonomous – such as sailing a voyage via predefined waypoints using a track pilot – and more can be automated without removing the human element completely.

When it comes to autonomous operation, different levels can be automated including:

  • Individual vessel equipment
  • Entire vessel systems
  • The entire vessel
  • The entire fleet
  • The entire industry

The simplest levels are automated first, for example equipment and engines. Some vessel equipment already operates autonomously. In the future, more equipment will be automated until eventually the entire vessel can operate autonomously.

The automation of vessel operation will make some tasks, such as predictive maintenance planning, obsolete. Instead, the system will automatically monitor the condition of the equipment and ensure that maintenance is performed at the optimal time.

For the time being, using the power of machines to crunch data and carry out analysis to enable better human decision-making is the likely way companies will continue to move forward on the digitalization spectrum. Indeed, even when automated decision-making is reliable and robust, humans will likely retain a supervisory role.

The following areas need to be considered before autonomous operations can become a reality:

  • The artificial intelligence and technologies to enable autonomous operations are still under development. The first simple autonomous tests and pilots are already happening, but wider implementation will take more time.
  • Automation will come later to the whole supply chain management (for example, automating recognition of spare-part needs, automatic ordering, logistics related to the order, etc.)
  • Automation of vessel operations will decrease the need for onshore operations
  • There must be a way to guarantee safety and continuity
  • Legislation will likely lag behind automation of operations in the marine industry, but will need to be taken into account as it materializes


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Niko Vuokko
Director, Strategy and Business Development, Eniram

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