Lloyd's Register (LR), alongside QinetiQ and the University of Southampton, has created the Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 (GMTT 2030) report to ask 'what's next?' in the maritime industry.
GMTT 2030, which assessed 56 technologies before focusing on 18 specific technologies, identifies two areas: those that will transform ship design and building, and those that will impact safety, commercial and operational performance.
"Shipping is likely to evolve quickly now," said LR marine director Tom Boardley in September. "That evolution is likely to be uneven but while 2030 is not far away, we think that shipping is likely to have changed significantly."
Nick Brown, brand and external relations manager at LR, says: "It's hard to say just one technology will transform the industry. Crucial is the interplay and overlap between the technology areas. For example, sensors providing data that can help transform ship operations. We can see how digital technology and smart phones have helped transform how we live our lives and disrupt business models. This transformation has yet to make a significant impact on shipping."
Brown believes that the impact could be seen earlier, or later, for that matter. "We need to be prepared to be surprised," he says. "If you could bring someone back from the 1960s to today they might be surprised to see that 50 years on we are still driving around in cars. They would be impressed that they don't rust anymore and at the levels of performance and comfort. But they would probably be truly amazed by digital technology."
The response from the industry has been "overwhelmingly positive and supportive", says Brown, adding that people are hungry for ideas about the future. So, with change upon us, how will the industry evolve and what is the potential of some of these technologies?
Advanced materials: the nano scale
Changing the materials currently used forms a big part of the report. While metals will remain the dominant force for ship structures, there will be an opportunity to refine their characteristics through what is known as microscale or nano-scale manipulation.
For example, implementing magnesium or calcium nano-particles could strengthen welds, while a new anti-corrosion coating will be used to better protect vessels.
There is also the chance for shipping companies to improve sustainability and fuel economy by using advanced high-strength steel, aluminium, glass fibre and carbon-fibre composites. GMTT 2030 also mentions the possibility of self-repairing materials.
Big data analytics
With more and more data being collected from sources such as oceanographic data, maritime accident data, and personal information, one question is: how can this be analysed and used to to improve ship operations?
The evolution of big data analytics creates the ability to use algorithms to look at correlations between the different forms of data, with the report claiming that "when the correlation is spotted, new algorithms will be established and applied automatically".
Despite the advantages of more data and better analysis, the issue of cybersecurity and data protection remains. Data will have to be kept secure from malicious cyber attacks.
Robotics: reducing human interaction
One topic that stirs up much discussion is the use of robots. The report predicts that by 2030 three new types of robots will be used in commercial shipping: a learning robot; one that can handle an asset - dubbed a practical robot; and a mini-robot, potentially used for inspections in harsh environments, for example to identify and record emissions and pollutants.
These robots are likely to be developed alongside sensors and remote control technologies.
GMTT 2030 states that robotic technologies will "integrate assets with other emerging technologies" such as big data and the Internet of Things, and will reduce human interaction with dangerous processes.
There is also a point to be made on recruitment in the industry. The report asserts that the reduction of human interaction will be a growing trend in the future, opening up more possibilities for robotics.
Sensors: wireless monitoring
A new generation of sensor technologies will remove the need for regular visits to remote locations. Sensors will be able to collect data autonomously and then relay this information in real time.
Capturing this data will allow shipowners to improve overall maintenance cycles of vessels, including condition monitoring and condition-based monitoring. For example, the sensors will be able to notify shipowners when a piece of equipment requires maintenance.
A wireless network of sensors will need to be miniaturised and have self-calibration characteristics, among others, the report points out.
However, as with big data analytics, cybersecurity will need to be at the top of the agenda in the area of wireless technology.
Communications: the connected ship
The growth in communications - from WiFi to 5G connectivity - will see the birth of the 'connected' ship. This ship will allow operators to access live audio as well as HD and 3D video from on-board recording devices, and remove the need for physical on-board surveys.
In what is currently a hotly debated topic, the report says that real-time decision making in ship management and autonomous operation will also be feasible.
As well as this, enhancements in communications from ship to shore could improve crew welfare, according to the report.
Power and propulsion: new technologies
Power generation will change dramatically, with alternative fuels, energy-saving devices, renewable energy and hybrid power generation all potentially playing their part.
GMTT 2030 describes the challenges as being two-fold: environmental and commercial, including rising fuel costs and fleet overcapacity.
With climate change never off the agenda, GMTT 2030 says that future governmental carbon policies could increase the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel cells.
Testing of these new technologies - which could include diesel electric and hybrid propulsion - will most likely start in short-sea ships, tugs, offshore support vessels, yachts and inland waterway vessels.
Autonomous vehicles are appearing in many transport-related industries, including the air and automotive sectors. Their use in the maritime sector will continue to increase, says the report, to the point where autonomous surface and underwater vessels are viewed as just another aspect of the industry.
These vehicles will greatly change the way in which those in the industry explore, monitor and interact with their environment. From a commercial point of view, the vehicles will be cost-efficient and widely used in deep ocean mining and oil and gas operations.
There will be a mixture of underwater, surface and even air vehicles, all of which will be fitted with marine renewable energy-harvesting devices, advanced propulsion systems, and sensing and communication capabilities.
The Technomax era
The scenarios in GMTT 2030 - dubbed Technomax - are "about technology uptake", says Brown.
As an example, a Technomax LNG carrier will be built from advanced materials such as graphene to make the vessel lighter, while graphene sensors detect traces of pollutants and emissions.
A Technomax container ship in 2030 is envisioned to have on-board data analytics machines, connected to onshore decision-support systems, which will manage maintenance, navigation and communications, enabling it to be a 'smart' ship.
There is also talk of a bulk carrier using hybrid LNG marine diesel fuels mixed with biofuels as its main drive for propulsion.
"In GMTT 2030, the scenarios are about the Technomax, rather than economic scenarios in the future. It has not been about what the future will or could look like, but trying to understand the forces that will shape our futures," explains Brown.
With Brown admitting that the transformation could come sooner rather than later, it is certainly an uncertain, yet exciting time for the industry. "It's going to be interesting to see," he concludes.