“Software is eating the world.” – Marc Andreesen
(Article originally published in July/Aug 2023 edition.)
As vessels become more advanced and complex, fleet owners and operators are turning to cutting-edge software solutions to maximize efficiency and performance. A tsunami of maritime applications is flooding the market, but fleet intelligence and artificial intelligence (AI) are showing particularly fascinating developments.
From predictive maintenance to task automation, maritime software is rapidly shaping – and reshaping – the future of shipping. It’s nothing less than a complete reimagining of the industry and how it should operate, driven by the transformative power of software solutions.
To get a better understanding of the technical revolution taking place, we spoke with several industry leaders to help grasp what cutting-edge tech is all about while gaining insights from their high-powered lenses.
“Maritime Intelligence the Way It Should Be”
Recognizing software’s growing importance in both maximizing operational efficiency and reducing shipping’s carbon footprint, leading classification society ABS late last year established a separate “software as a service” company, ABS Wavesight, dedicated to helping shipowners and operators streamline their compliance efforts while maximizing operational efficiency and sustainability.
It’s “maritime intelligence the way it should be,” the company says.
“The strategy behind ABS creating a dedicated software company is to bring together our digital and software capabilities under one ‘umbrella,’” explains Wavesight’s President & CEO, Paul Sells. “With Wavesight, we’re able to not only elevate our products but also explore new technology and strategies that can be applied to current and future market changes or challenges. It’s also a business move — it complements ABS’ core classification services and is an important part of our overall enterprise strategy to support our clients and the industry in the development of cleaner, smarter and safer shipping operations.
Sells says the new company has been a hit with customers. Its core offerings – My Digital Fleet and Nautical Systems – continue to expand and evolve with new features and applications in response to customer needs. Sells also anticipates the introduction of new products as technology advances and new priorities emerge.
Reimagining Vessel Ops
Backed by Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS) and its corporate venture arm, EPS Ventures, Singapore-based Volteo Maritime is a fleet management software company that “reimagines vessel operations management.”
Co-Founder & CEO Surendra Lingareddy has taken his experience digitalizing port supply chains and married it with fleet intelligence.
"Our primary focus has been mostly on the vessel to allow people to use a platform to record all the things that happen on the vessel daily,” he states. “For a ship to run effectively, multiple things need to come together. Number one is the upkeep of the vessel and how it is documented. Number two is compliance with environmental regulations and the like. Third is human work conditions. Time is a significant resource for people who work on ships, and one of our pursuits is to design software that will alleviate some of the time pressures they often experience."
Volteo's software works to establish consistency across the entire fleet by providing a distributed operating system (device-agnostic) that captures data from navigation, engine, maritime pollution (MARPOL) equipment and daily compliance checklists. Automation is achieved through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) from the various data points, which includes human in-the-loop validation.
"If there are 100 metrics in an engine logbook, about 60 of them potentially could be filled in automatically, but the other 40 will still be something that a human needs to input," Lingareddy says.
“It all comes down to dashboards. A fleet manager begins his morning with a cup of coffee and four vessels to manage. If he sees their health is ‘green,’ he can chat with his colleagues. If it's ‘red, he must start investigating and contact the ship."
When asked what considerations maritime executives should have in mind when choosing software solutions, Lingareddy states, "Keep it very simple. Outcomes always trump innovation. Decisions need to be focused on not just bringing about innovation, but how can it be ‘productized’ without radically disrupting existing workflow."
Lingareddy is also excited about the increased vessel bandwidth available to support more solutions: "With 6,000+ vessels already adopting Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites [like Starlink], the entire software ecosystem for ships needs to be reimagined, and that's going to have a significant impact on how software gets built for the industry. Vision will be another major investment. Companies such as EPS are investing significantly in human safety. An example would be large box ships with thousands of containers. Twice a day, someone goes around with a notepad, climbing above and below decks, taking temperatures. By adding connectivity and cameras, you now gain 24/7 eyes and ears that replace the need for a human to perform such a menial and potentially hazardous task."
In reimagining vessel software, Lingareddy says Volteo is “laying the foundation for the future advantages of technologies like Artificial Intelligence."
AI Ahoy – SeaGPT
Sixty days ago, Singapore-based Greywing, backed by famed American startup accelerator, Y-Combinator (and utilized by BW, Hafnia, and IINO Lines), launched its maritime AI conversational agent, SeaGPT.
The virtual assistant, or "Concierge," is a decision support and automation tool to plan and schedule activities (such as crew changes in 60 seconds) with a simple text-based interface from email, Whatsapp or MS Teamssuch. Leveraging large language models (LLMs) like OpenAI's ChatGPT – history’s fastest and most adopted platform with over 100 million users within three months of launching – SeaGPT can understand complex documents like visa or travel restrictions and instantaneously provide clear answers to questions like, "Can this person travel there, and if not, what needs to be done?"
Greywing's Chief Technology Officer, Hrishi Olickel, defines Artificial Intelligence as "A machine process that can learn from new inputs. Generative AI is the class of AI that's focused on creating new things from inputs. It's very much like a creative AI, capable of producing new images, music, text and the like. This contrasts with other forms of AI, like classifiers, which analyze existing texts to categorize them, or extractors, which process data and convert certain parts of that data into something else. As a class in Generative AI, large language models (LLMs) represent a breakthrough in general-purpose intelligence – something we've been trying to do for a long time, first with games like chess. If you can teach a model a game, then you can generalize it to our world, which should just be a bigger game with more rules."
SeaGPT claims to accurately and efficiently search for flights that can respond to particular customer needs for visa restrictions, regulations and corporate policies.
"So someone can come in and say, ‘I want a flight from A to B but not going through these regions, under this cost, with no layovers over two hours, etc.,’ and previously the only person that could handle that was a live travel agent,” Olickel explains. “Likely not anymore. It can consider other factors such as port restrictions, multiple ports, deviations, fuel costs, and more. The result is a powerful tool that can handle complex requirements efficiently."
The SeaGPT system handles "walls of text" from email overload, lengthy restriction documents and requests for quotes (RFQs) by "parsing emails from port agents, extracting the necessary information and requesting the right clarifications. It's not only time-saving for the user but also ensures that the conversation with the port agent is realistic and not a wasteful automated interaction. SeaGPT acts as a gatekeeper, filtering out non-essential information and highlighting what requires more attention."
For those possibly intimidated by such advancements, Olickel is reassuring: "Not all of us, especially past generations, grew up learning how to 'point and click' or how to understand digital interfaces. We know how to converse. Almost everyone we show SeaGPT to comes back and immediately demonstrates that they know how to use it. They come back the next day and the day after. We've never seen that before."
When asked about lessons learned and AI's long-term implications for maritime, Olickel states, "The truly magical thing about a tool like SeaGPT is that when we present this to users, it reawakens their latent desires for things to be better. They look at things differently. They start thinking about possibilities they had previously resigned themselves to as ‘never being able to achieve.’"
Like Volteo’s Lingareddy, Olickel foresees “a complete transformation of the maritime industry, especially in the area of communication. Artificial intelligence, particularly LLMs like SeaGPT, will become woven into the fabric of how companies operate. I imagine every team in maritime will have these AI agents embedded in their operations, serving as a general-purpose helper and significantly augmenting their capabilities. Just as calculators revolutionized arithmetic and made tasks near 100 percent accurate, AI agents, now that they are becoming democratized and increasingly accessible, will become indispensable tools in the industry."
Maritime software is revolutionizing fleet management with task automation and data-driven insights, increasing efficiency and safety. Pioneers like Singapore-based Volteo Maritime and Greywing offer intelligent technologies that lay the future groundwork where such solutions are as ubiquitous to maritime operations as the cell phone is to everyday life.
Coupled with the amplifying of ship-to-shore communications bandwidth, opportunities for further improvements across the entire commercial fleet are as inevitable as the rising tide.
Tech columnist Sean Holt writes from Singapore.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.