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Future-proofing our oceans

Conserving ocean spaces and developing the ships and naval vessels of the future

Published: 11 May 2016

Following the publication of their major report, Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 (GMTT 2030), three leading maritime experts give their views on the importance of developing new technologies to conserve ocean spaces and develop the ships and naval vessels of the future.

Professor Ajit Shenoi, Director of the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) at the University of Southampton: conserving ocean spaces

Our understanding of the oceans is remarkably small, considering that they critically influence our climate and are major sources of food, energy and mineral resources, as well as serving as highways of global trade.

The oceans also play an important role in the Earth’s climate. They transport heat from the tropics to the higher latitudes and absorb large amounts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, which affects ocean life.

Global warming will result in significant sea level rise in the future. As a result, many low-lying coastal areas around the world will be lost to the sea over the coming centuries. Wealthy, industrialised nations may be able to defend themselves from the encroaching waters for a time, with massive technological effort and expense, but affordable and practical solutions are needed for all.

Human appetite for energy and mineral resources seems insatiable. As land-based resources become increasingly scarce, ocean-based resources are attracting greater interest. Already, more than a third of the world’s oil and gas extraction comes from offshore sources. Oceanic wind, wave, tidal, biological and thermal sources can all meet a proportion of our energy needs. With resource price increases, the appeal of ocean mining for ores and minerals is rising.

In the GMTT 2030 report, we have identified eight transformational technologies that are likely to have the most significant impact on nurturing and preserving the planet’s ocean environments. These are: autonomous systems, big data, deep sea mining, materials, carbon capture and storage, marine biotechnologies, sensors and communication, and sustainable energy generation. Used in combination, these technologies will help the world address the effects of climate change, the higher expected frequency and severity of extreme weather, the further reduction of land-based resources and the increasing coastal populations.

More than a third of the world’s oil and gas extraction comes from offshore sources. Oceanic wind, wave, tidal, biological and thermal sources can all meet a proportion of our energy needs. With resource price increases, the appeal of ocean mining for ores and minerals is rising.

Professor Ajit Shenoi - Direct of the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Dr Fai Cheng, Head of Strategic Research and Technology Policy, Lloyd’s Register: commercial shipping

As the global economy continues to expand, the population is getting wealthier and wants a new range of goods available to them from around the world. These customers are demanding and technologically savvy, driving the suppliers to seek new approaches to shipping. Price is only one factor driving their behaviours; schedule reliability, intuitive self-service, environmental responsibility and ease of business are also important to them. The coming digital revolution will help shipping to meet these challenges.

The availability of the eight transformational technologies we have identified: advanced materials, big data analytics, robotics, sensors, communications, shipbuilding, smart ships for commercial shipping, will have a profound impact on ship system design and operation in the next 15 years.

With faster technological advances, there will be a move towards delegating authority from the human operator to the machine to perform more of the tasks that are considered as dull, dirty and dangerous to achieve a higher level of safety and effectiveness.

We envisage that ships in 2030, known as TechnoMax, will be smarter, data driven, greener, have flexible powering options and will be operated differently from the past.

The shipping industry will need to reconsider its business model in the way a ship is designed, built and operated. These changes will affect education and training: ship operations will be conducted partially or entirely onshore and will be remotely manned by highly qualified personnel, as ships become ever more smart and complex.

New issues such as cyber security, port operations and societal concerns about jobs and safety will arise and need to be addressed. With an ageing population, rising wages and availability of affordable technologies, TechnoMax ships will slowly and surely become part of the routine shipping scene in 2030.

Dr Iain Kennedy, Strategy Director, QinetiQ: naval technologies

Many naval vessels operating in 2030 are already being planned, procured and in some cases, are about to enter service. Navies are faced with the challenge of how to maintain the capabilities of these vessels while transitioning systems and concepts of operation to exploit and defend against both evolutionary and disruptive technologies.

We are experiencing an unprecedented acceleration in technology development and proliferation of disruptive technologies, driven by major consumer electronics research and development. This is likely to enable adversaries to threaten existing military systems. Navies operating successfully in 2030 will have understood this challenge and adopted forward-thinking technology strategies to contend with rapidly changing defence and security scenarios.

We have examined how eight technology areas could develop and interact, potentially influencing the conduct of future naval operations. These are: advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, energy management, maritime autonomous systems, spectrum warfare, big data analytics, human computer interaction and human augmentation.

We expect that the interdependent roles of naval warfighting, humanitarian operations and maritime security will undergo a significant transformation in the coming decades. This will be driven by the development and application of these new and emerging technologies, which in turn will be driven largely by the consumer markets. The eight selected technologies we identified will, together, have a substantial and potentially disruptive effect on future naval missions.

For developers and users of technology, the challenge is enormous and it raises the questions: “Are we innovating fast enough?” and “What might we do differently to innovate faster?” because the rate of technology change is only going to increase.

For more information, visit www.southampton.ac.uk/smmi

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