Technology advances in the 2020s will enable faster communications and artificial intelligence, improve maritime safety and reduce space junk
LiFi (or light fidelity) will transform how machines and seafarers communicate in the future. It is 10 times faster and far more reliable than wireless fidelity (wifi).
This technology, pioneered at the University of Edinburgh, UK, uses light waves instead of radio signals to transmit information. LiFi is therefore an ideal medium for real-time and deterministic wireless data communications.
Data connections with LiFi will offer consistent quality and transmission times in the microsecond range. It is suitable for mobile applications in maritime industrial robotics and automation technology – a true enabler of autonomous ship technology for the future.
Maritime communications will be boosted by highly powered low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites providing VSAT connectivity. However, a key limiting factor to constructing and operating LEO (as well as other satellite constellations of the future) will be their decommissioning and disposal.
Space junk will be an increasingly challenging issue for the satellite industry in the coming decade because of the risk of a collision impacting communications.
A technology has emerged to remedy the situation. Altius Space Machines is developing methods for orbital rendezvous, capture, de-orbit and active debris removal. This relies on developing grappling fixtures and capture techniques.
OneWeb is building these fixtures in to its LEO satellites as it prepares to commission 30 per month over the next two years.
These same fixtures could be used for satellite servicing, in-space propellant transfer and on-orbit assembly, offering the potential to prolong the life of existing satellites and the reliability of maritime communications.
Computer power is a key enabler of data analytics and simulation, so the faster the better. Supercomputers have made significant advances through the last decade. But future developments will be in quantum computing.
This technology uses qubits as tiny stores of data and a fundamental building block of quantum computers. It is already being used in financial research and will be used in data centres and cloud services.
Google’s tests have shown a 53-qubit quantum computing chip calculated a task in 200 seconds compared with 10,000 years for conventional supercomputers.
That could transform artificial intelligence, analytics and simulations for design, reducing port congestion and seafarer training.
In man overboard situations, conventional radar struggles to identify the casualty. Technology has been developed by German institutes and a radar manufacturer that will improve search and recovery to save lives.
It is almost impossible to disseminate a person in the sea using radar because of the clutter from sea wave reflections disturbing the radar signal.
But the SEERAD technology boosts the signal from a person in the sea over this clutter using harmonic radar. It uses two radar antenna on a ship operating on different frequency bands and a frequency-converting transponder integrated into a lifejacket.
The benchmark for harmonic radar systems was identifying the target at 1 km with a transmission power of 1,000 W. Tests in the Baltic Sea in 2019 demonstrated SEERAD could locate a dummy with a transponder at a distance of 6 km with a transmission power of only 100 W.
The future for anti-corrosion and biofouling will involve nanotechnology. This will offer a pioneering solution to coatings to prevent the adherence of biomass. Nanostructured coatings using nanoparticulate substances could replace conventional paints.
These substances form and interact when corrosion and biofouling processes begin. They maximise the anti-adherent or repulsive capabilities of a surface, eliminating the need for biocide. Nanotechnology could also be used for fuel additives and alternative power systems in the future.