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AI and vessel operations: using data to drive sustainable operations

Smarty Mathew John, vice president of Digital Solutions at ABS Smarty Mathew John, vice president of Digital Solutions at ABS

The use of AI-enabled voice and chatbots will deliver insights to a wider range of maritime stakeholders and make data-driven decision making the norm, says Smarty Mathew John, vice president of Digital Solutions at ABS.

Understanding vessel operations has traditionally relied on the ability of technical superintendents and fleet managers to gather data from multiple sources and present it in a logical format. Data sources are many ranging from status of ship’s equipment to weather conditions, and each has an impact on environmental, operational or commercial compliance.

There is no question that experienced people are going to continue to be key to a digitalised shipping industry, but the evolution of technology means that onboard processes can be made efficient enough for there to be minimal manual effort; the focus of the crew and shoreside teams can be dedicated to decision-making informed by data.

The operational risks for a vessel are dynamic, with impacts based principally on safety, compliance, structural/machinery health, commercial performance and external factors such as weather conditions. Each of these factors is complex and intertwined. The continuously emerging regulatory requirements for decarbonisation such as the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII), will create a convergence between environmental compliance and commercial performance.

In addition to the traditional communication between owners, managers and charterers, an ever-expanding group of stakeholders is interested in gaining access to vessel performance insights.

A digital transition

This transition is moving the industry towards digitalisation, through fleet management software with business intelligence increasingly monitoring the vessel and able to quickly tell the user what’s going on in terms of asset status and health as well as commercial and technical performance. The advantage this conveys is that the information can be centralised and presented so that authorised parties - fleet managers, charterers, and the C-Suite - can easily find the answers they need.

With the next generation of fleet management relying on increased use of data and analytics, it makes sense to explore new ways of accessing and presenting that data. When ABS designed its My Digital Fleet platform, user experience was put at the centre of the process.

One of the logical next additions was to enable a greater range of stakeholders to query and receive insights on vessel status against any known parameter. To do this required technology that all types of users regardless of their operational or commercial expertise could work with but that would provide reliable information.

ABS recently integrated a chatbot feature into its ABS My Digital Fleet platform which functions as a conversational, self-service ‘assistant,’ incorporating AI that applies natural language processing to redefine how users consume data and make decisions based on actionable business intelligence.

For a non-technical user, it is possible to simply type or speak questions that the ‘virtual fleet manager’ can retrieve and articulate back – essentially eliminating the need to search for answers to critical questions from multiple sources such as:

  • Which vessels are not meeting charter party requirements?
  • Which vessels have non-functioning critical equipment?
  • How do I optimise my route for decarbonisation goals?
  • Where can I find my lowest cost bunker fuel during the voyage?
  • What is are the core the fuel consumption and CII and performance trends for a specific asset, fleet or trade route/vessel?
  • How much fuel can I save by operating on a single generator while the vessel is at anchor?

Further insights can be provided as the machine learning engine is fed with more data and can extrapolate findings on a fleet level; there are many opportunities to augment decision making as the platform develops.

An emerging technology

Conversational AI has evolved to the point where it will recognise any accent or language. Document cognition means it can read reports, understand and present their implications and even recommend insights where it would previously not have been possible to parse and present granular data.

The virtual agents can be trained to think like a charterer, shipmanager or an owner, depending on which user logs in; the background process will respond to their needs and deliver specific insights.

Relatively simple choices can predefine how data is charted and displayed, and more complex programming enables users to adapt the inputs to what they want to see. For example, vessel performance can be a question of fuel consumption versus speed over ground or speed/power loss versus time, in which case the virtual agent understands the input and displays the information dynamically.

One of the main advantages is that the AI is not limited to what one single application can do. It is possible to pose telling questions, tie them to other parameters and do a deeper dive to gain the required insights. The only limitation is amount and quality of data that has been ingested by the AI.

The addition of AI to My Digital Fleet is the result of an alliance with through ABS’ approach to tracking emerging technology trends and identifying innovative start-ups with unique capabilities that add value to users. The ABS My Digital Fleet Alliance Program is designed to nurture an ecosystem of trusted intelligence and technology providers enabling integrated insights for clients on one unified platform.

The working process with was firmly grounded in addressing the needs of clients and market need. has a track record in the conversational AI space; previous projects include producing a virtual agent for Microsoft to which the company is also a partner.

Making a positive difference

The maritime industry has ambitious use cases for AI, focused initially on applications where there is a high level of confidence in the data quality. ABS believes using AI in general can make a positive difference to vessel OpEx and ultimately to charter earnings. The industry was not necessarily ready until now to depend on data presented on screen rather than from a person with the same level of trust.

AI is the next stage of evolution in using data to augment the crew and shoreside teams to make better informed decisions; that trust must be built up over time through practical use cases where value can be proven.

The maritime industry’s transition to more sophisticated ways of obtaining and managing information is moving the industry towards digital solutions that can increase the time-to-value for obtaining critical vessel status and related insights. The advantage this provides is that the information can be centralised and presented so that authorised parties - from crew to C-suite - can easily find the answers they need.

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Digital Ship magazine provides the latest information about maritime satellite communications technology, software systems, navigation technology, computer networks, data management and TMSA. It is published ten times a year.


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