Maritime Applications for IoT

The Internet of Things is being hailed as the next great technology for the maritime sector but what is it, why does it matter, and who is operating in the space?

What is IoT?

Simply put, the internet of things is the network of physical objects that have been embedded with the computing power required to collect, process, and transmit data.

Traditionally we think of a computer as a desktop or laptop device. In the last 10 years, we’ve added mobile devices to that mix but now, with the invention of IoT anything can become a computer. Your kettle at home is no longer a kettle, it is a computer which just happens to specialise in boiling water. Your fridge is now a computer which just happens to keep things cool. Your car can be made up of a network of small computers, all of whom work together to get you from A to B.

IoT is the connection point between the physical world and the digital world.

In a maritime context, this gets pretty interesting. Each box on a container ship is no longer just a box, but a computer which specialises in safely carrying goods around the world. A tug’s engine becomes a computer system which happens just happens to generate huge amounts of propulsion.

In a maritime context, this gets pretty interesting

IoT is a gateway technology to digital transformation. Artificial intelligence, big data, and blockchain all rely on data to function effectively. As the physical systems that make shipping possible come online it opens up a world of opportunities to improve how ships are operated.

From vessel tracking and maintenance, to crew safety and welfare, anywhere that a physical operation takes place can be digitalised and improved through IoT.

Applications for shipowners

There are two ways to convince a shipowner to spend money. Either because there is either a proven financial return on the investment, or it is needed for regulatory compliance. For IoT, regulatory compliance is a key driver of uptake in the short term, but there is also a huge opportunity for shipowners who invest in the tech to see financial returns from its implementation.  

In January 2018 the EU Monitoring, Reporting and Verification scheme came into force for individual voyages. This means that all ships have to submit verified emissions data to the European Maritime Safety Agency for each voyage they undertake within the EU.

On the 1st of January 2020 a global cap on the sulphur content of emissions will come into force meaning that ships will either need to burn low sulphur fuels such as marine gas oil or install scrubbers to clean their exhaust gasses. Either way, the need for ships to properly monitor and verify their exhaust gas content will be compounded.

Looking further ahead, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee recently set out a strategy to halve the greenhouse gas emissions of the world fleet by 2050 and put a long term plan in place to reduce industry emissions to zero.

This sprawling regulatory picture, coupled with a growing business need for better visibility of operations at sea makes IoT the natural technological investment of choice for shipowners and operators around the world. Indeed, a recent study conducted by Inmarsat found that 75% of shipowners plan to deploy IoT solutions in the next 18 months.  According to the report, over the next three years, the average shipowner plans to spend £2.5m on IoT implementation over the next three years.

Five startups in the space

There are a growing number of companies operating in maritime IoT offering services across five main areas: vessel tracking, emissions control, predictive maintenance, supply chain visibility, and safety and welfare. We have picked out five promising startups to feature in this report:

ioCurrents

ioCurrents
Credit: ioCurrents

Washington State based ioCurrents have developed an IoT processing unit capable of measuring up to 75 different parameters on board a vessel.  Inputs can be taken from both the bridge and the engine room, allowing real time route and engine monitoring.

Data can be used by the crew to run predictive maintenance programmes for machinery and adjust routing and schedules to improve performance. If there is a connection to the vessel, data can be transmitted to management ashore for further analysis and advice.

Green Sea Guard

Credit: Green Sea Guard

On the South coast of the UK, Plymouth based Green Sea Guard are working to improve emission monitoring with their gas analysis tools. Their gas monitor sits in the funnel stack and provides an accurate, high resolution, simultaneous measure of exhaust gas.

As well as monitoring and verifying emissions for ship operators, they are developing tools which can “smell” when a ship’s engine is not operating correctly. This gives engineers an early warning to malfunctioning equipment, allowing them to carry out maintenance and repair work before an expensive or dangerous breakdown occurs.

Augury

NYC based Augury specialises in the continuous monitoring of machinery. Their “Halo” sensors can be fitted to machinery of any type and measure vibration, sound and temperature. This data is fed into their continuous diagnostics platform which uses machine learning to translate raw data into actionable insights on asset health.

Real-time alerts and reports provide an in-depth view of machine health, developing issues, and suggested maintenance practices.

Parsyl

Credit: Parsyl.com

Another USA based startup Parsyl has developed discreet sensors which can be fitted to an individual pallet or package. They are able to track temperature, humidity, light, impact and GPS position.

Data from devices can be used to create supply chain insights across land, sea, and air from as little as $10 USD per device per shipment.

Z/S Wellness

Credit: Zeyus Media/Garmin

Working at sea for long periods of time can be detrimental to health. A combination of long working hours, poor diet, and lack of exercise increase the chances of a major health incident such as a heart attack striking a crew member when a ship is a long way from medical aid.

ZS Wellness has developed a health tracking system designed specifically for the maritime environment, their wearable devices are worn by crew members while on board. The data collected can be used to create personalised wellness plans for individual crew members. Anonymised data for the whole fleet can also be used to help ship management ashore to better plan welfare provision for those on board.


As connectivity to ships at sea improves we will see an explosion of IoT services hitting the market. While regulation may be a driver of uptake in the short term, the long-term benefits will come from the raft of new efficiencies that become possible when the physical world becomes connected to the digital.

A ship is no longer a ship. It is a network of thousands of connected computers which specialise in moving thousands of tonnes of cargo safely and efficiently across the oceans.