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Drone Technology: A Game Changer for the Shipping Industry

Technologies that could stimulate the maritime industry can be inspired from an array of domains. One of the game-changers in the foreseeable future is going to be the use of ‘Drones’. Classification societies are developing methods of using flying autonomous craft, or drones, to assist surveyors on ships.

Drone technology already exists and commercial units are ready for use, but they need to be hardened for maritime applications. Drones can provide information to surveyors from difficult-to-reach areas on ships and offshore structures. Commercial drone-based surveys will be adopted in 2018.

Another application for drones is testing ship emissions. There are commercial units available and being tested for these applications. Drones can also be used for delivering parcels to ships close to coastlines and navigating in ice conditions to provide more information to masters. In 2018 we can expect more development in each of these applications and ships being equipped with their own drones.

UAS advancements are increasingly impacting our everyday lives, from agriculture & filmmaking to security and communications down to the products we have delivered. Its advances present major changes for the future of the maritime industry. As disruptive as the smartphone has been to the world, the use of drones will revolutionise the landscape of ship operations for years to come.

Drones are quickly becoming a regular tool in the maritime industry, although developed for government and military operations, over the next half a decade, growth in the commercial and civilian drone industry is expected to surpass defence industry, with an estimated value of USD 127 billion.  As the development of UAS technology gathers momentum, we’re going to see UAS used more and more in maritime applications than ever before.

Drones can safely go where humans can’t. Improving safety, reducing costs, speeding up processes and making access challenges a breeze, are just a handful of the benefits of using drones in the maritime industry.

(Image Courtesy: GoLegal)

Ship Safety & Maintenance

Replacing the need for human inspections, routine maintenance can be monitored remotely in real-time by surveyors, providing instant feedback to the vessel or offshore Superintendent. This, in turn, reduces costs, increases efficiency and significantly reduces the risk to human life during essential maintenance.

Tank inspections are a common task onboard vessels and are always a risk to the participating crew members. Dangerous gases are the biggest killer at sea: often, a crew member will enter an enclosed space – unbeknownst to them, that it contains a noxious gas. Unfortunately, often they will become unconscious and suffocate. However, this can be completely avoided by the use of a drone. Easy and quick analysis will determine the safety of the tank for entry – saving lives with just a matter of minutes of drone flight. Equally, video feedback can be used to identify if human inspection is even required, completely removing any threat to human lives.

Aside from the safety and efficiency aspects, shipping companies also want to avoid typically three things: whales, icebergs and pirates. Since the advancements of drones have allowed imagery from over 30km away, dealing with the task of hazard avoidance has become far easier for commercial shipping companies.

(Image Courtesy: Composites Manufacturing Magazine)

Reducing Costs

Drones can be typically operated by one person without any extensive safety equipment, meaning the costs associated can be significantly reduced. UAS are so quick to deploy in comparison to traditional methods, reducing downtime.

The use of drones for delivery has become a fast approached topic in the maritime industry, a topic that has now become a reality. The use of drones, rather than launch boats could help to reduce costs by up to 90% for vessel operations and ship managers. Research has shown that on average, the cost of a launch boat is $1,500 per hire, however, it can be as much as $4,000 depending on port locations, and it’s been estimated to save the entire industry upwards of $675 million.

(Image Courtesy: Drone Definition)

Easing Access

Drones can be flown into high up or hazardous areas to check the structural integrity of a vessel or of loaded cargo. Whereas previously this high-risk job was down to a crew member, now a drone can be flown to the inspection point, and with a high definition video feedback to the control centre, not only does this mitigate any risk, it is also far quicker.

Much has been made of re-supplying ships whilst at sea, especially since the evolution of drones, this task has become a far simpler concept. Initial tests showed multiple hurdles to overcome to make this option of delivery viable.

(Image Courtesy: Medium)

Preparing for the Road Ahead

However, there are still far more speed bumps to overcome, from improving the distance a drone can travel to its ability to handle heavy and large loads and until these progressions, UAS technology is currently primarily being focussed on inspection and surveillance.

Drones are only one small part of the bigger puzzle in helping transform and disrupt the maritime industry. What do we know? That UAS play a critical component in the future of the maritime industry in increasing its effectiveness, efficiency and safety and before we know it, the maritime industry will be altered forever.

As the development of drone technology gathers pace for both military and recreational purposes, unmanned aerial vehicles are also becoming more prevalent in the maritime industry. The drone technology will have a major impact on shipping in 2018 and will have prolonged ramifications for its future. While some technologies related to drones are already well advanced, others are still in early development. While the drones are already in use in other industries and just needs a trigger for it to be adopted in maritime.


Image: One of the game-changers in the foreseeable future is going to be the use of ‘Drones’. (Image Courtesy: Carbon Brief)

Source: SeaNews

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