#MASRC20: Navigating the right course for MASS adoption

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Data is key to the UK’s maritime strategy

Apparently there are currently more than 1,000 autonomous vessels operating in international waters and 53 different organisations now contributing to the UK MAS Regulatory Working Group.

In the past six years or so, unmanned vessels have collectively clocked up tens of thousands of incident free operative days. NextGen MASS is no longer a purely academic exercise.

So how do we better sell the safety of autonomous systems and grow trust amongst the sceptical big shipping industry?

And, after five annual #MASRC conferences, is it really full steam ahead for the next iteration of autonomous vessels?

There were mixed messages at a recent 2020 London event when stakeholders gathered for two days to discuss the opportunities, barriers and requirements to address costs, performance, growth and protocols.

What was apparent was a disconnect between the enthusiast operators and adopters of smaller AVs and the big shipping operators who remain sceptical about issues like software integrity and fail safe systems and the economic argument to justify the costs of upgrading existing fleets which they say were really designed for people.

The Government remains committed to its Maritime 2050 agenda as outlined by Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani in her opening keynote, reinforcing the message that the UK will continue to leverage tech and big data as a competitive differentiator.

Which suggests that change is coming whether owners and investors are on board or not.

As an active stakeholder via the MARLab project, Solis Marine is directly plugged into the needs of the active MASS sector as we work with Maritrace and the MCA to put clear, safe water between manned and unmanned vessels, using complex data sets in the Portland Harbour MVP trial.

At #MASRC20, the stakeholders were clear that data, tech, training and regulation had to take priority. Here were just some of the key takeaways:

  • Safety – we need to improve on visual look out using new tech like machine learning,  something Southampton University is working on.
  • There’s a need for more reliable contextual navigational data, with a keen focus on sense and avoid.
  • The sector needs clarity on secondary and primary legal instruments and a unified code for shore based controllers and remote control centres.
  • New security standards are required to secure the data chain and a programme to measure the effectiveness of cyber security controls to make them resilient.
  • Might deep sea typography be more reliable that GPS, and should we consider a return to celestial led data?
  • Who owns the skills and AV training framework, because there’s a chronic skills shortage which spans data science, cyberscience and engineering?

In short, the tide may well be turning, but what’s required is investment in intelligent data and a new ecosystem which can change maritime in ways many of us may not yet have anticipated.

Solis Marine is seeking partners to test its digital Portland Harbour prototype datahub. Interested partners should contact Rosalind Blazejczyk either via email r.blazejczyk@solis-marine.com or call 0203 794 3076.


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