Maritime Innovation: a Connected Ecosystem

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Digitalisation is waking up the shipping industry. Innovating and reinventing entire operating models. Take the huge increase in the volume of available maritime data — it allows the development of deep and machine learning and applications to enhance everything from vessel performance to asset-backed lending.

This change is set to redefine the boundaries of the industry itself. Creating entirely new and alternative opportunities for future growth and sustainability. Removing shipping from it’s silo and placing it within the interconnected ecosystem that is the supply chain.

We see our domain as interconnected. Any good or product does not know the difference between a vessel and truck. With black spots being removed (with improved sensors, tracking, data aquisition etc.), data flows almost without interruption from production to final delivery irrespective of which segment of the supply chain it is generated from. The technology that enables autonomisation of last mile delivery drones, or cars on the road, can just as easily be applied to warehouse robotics or port terminal operations.

This is the core of Amplifier’s approach: investing from deep ocean to last mile in logistics, maritime and mobility technology. Targeting early stage innovation primarily in autonomous mobility solutions, trade finance, AI for predictive freight and smart enterprise solutions.

But let’s focus on maritime for a second. What do we see in the future …

Big Data and AI

Data volume is now considerably advanced both onboard (new generation sensors), onshore and via third parties. Applied AI and machine learning applications are generating new operational models to support predictive maintenance, commercial chartering and performance optimisation. Solutions and market demand in this space is already mature, with immediate investment and disruption opportunities (e.g. Nautilus Labs).

Alternative Finance

Asset and trade finance has come under increasing pressure from regulation (BASEL III & IV), constraining major capital lenders and lowering the tolerance for the type of risk associated with shipping assets. Then there’s data access (transparency and quality) limiting the reach of financial institutions. New distributed ledger technology, AI and market intelligence applications are helping to unlock new capital pools and supporting the alternative finance needed to facilitate global trade. As with Big Data and AI, early stage investment and disruption is already advanced here (e.g. Aegir).

Autonomous systems

Autonomous vehicles and robotics are gaining increasing traction in transportation, both in the air and on land. Their application in deep ocean environments is clear, but remains a long way off (excluding level 2 retrofit applications by companies such as Shone and Orca AI). However, for near shore/port and terminal operations (i.e. container stacking, robotics) both software and hardware applications are already at play.

Power and Propulsion

Challenges, both environmental and commercial, including rising fuel costs and fleet capacity, are driving demand for new solutions. These include alternative fuels, renewable energy and hybrid power generation. Testing these new technologies — which could include electric and hybrid propulsion — will most likely start in short-sea ships, tugs and offshore support vessels. Adoption is limited, but growing, presenting opportunities for possible long-term future investment.

At Amplifier we invest at the Seed and Series A stage and typically look for our return over three to seven years. While we always keep one eye on the distant future to ensure we hit the innovation curve at the right point, some areas of maritime innovation remain too nascent in terms of adoption and validation to justify our pursuit. It is worth noting also that when it comes to achieving the returns we look for, often pure maritime applications, while solving issues for the industry, lack the scale required.

Today, however, as part of a digital and connected ecosystem, shipping is becoming increasingly forced from its own domain. With new horizons and opportunities opening up, we are optimistic for the future and excited to see change come.

by Henry Palmer, Principal of Amplifier

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