Visitors walk around the booth of China State Shipbuilding Corp, the developer of China's first smart ship, at the Marintec China 2017 exhibition in Shanghai. The smart ship was the highlight of the exhibition. (Song Yingge)
The concept of "smart," which has become ubiquitous in our daily digital life, has also started sailing along in the shipping industry.
At the just-concluded Marintec China 2017 exhibition in Shanghai, the first Chinese-made "smart ship," named Great Intelligence, debuted to show the nation's world-first achievement in this area.
It is dubbed the world's first smart ship, a name coined by its developer China State Shipbuilding Corp, as it is the first ship awarded the "cyber-safe," "cyber-perform" and "cyber-maintain" smart-vessel classifications by Lloyd's Register. It has also been classified an "intelligent ship" by the China Classification Society.
In the China Classification Society's definition, smart ships are those able to capture data covering the ocean environment, logistics, ports and their own equipment in real-time, which helps them autonomously pick and adjust routes and manage and maintain equipment and cargo on board in real time.
That helps ships sail safer and reduce energy consumption. And that trend in shipbuilding is spreading worldwide.
Alongside China, South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries in July launched its Integrated Smart Ship Solution, a collection of information technology systems aiming to optimize navigation by collecting real-time data.
Three ships built by another Korean shipyard, Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Group, have been certified "cyber-safe" by Lloyd's.
Japan, meanwhile, has set smart ship development as the key task for its shipping industry for the coming five years. In December 2012, the nation started a research project on smart ship applications by bringing together 29 organizations and companies including its ship classification society, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai.
In November 2015, Norwegian classification agency DNV GL started a project with Japanese shipping giant NYK group to collect and monitor maritime data. Since then, four of the group's container ships have delivered data to DNV GL's digital platform, which created a "digital twin" to simulate the ships' operations and will help monitor and predict maintenance in real time.
DNV GL announced at the Marintec China exhibition that it will launch a sector — specialized in digital shipping solutions next year.
But smart ship development is still in its infancy worldwide, said Arthur Brunvoll, owner and chairman of Brunvoll, a Norwegian ship equipment builder.
"There even aren't unified rules on these ships, with only a few classification societies having released standards," he said.
"Shipyards and ship equipment builders are eager to participate in this trend, but most of us would only add digital technologies in production and equipment maintenance, without knowing accurately how to define a smart ship."
The key to whether a ship is smart currently may be how many "smart" functions it has.
The "cyber-safe" ships from Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Group, for example, cannot be considered smart ships, said Gu Yiqing, a chief designer of smart ships at the Shanghai Merchant Ship Design and Research Institute, as they don't meet all conditions such as real-time maintenance.
Lloyd's Register and the China Classification Society are the only two societies which have released standards for smart ships so far.
"(But) other nations and companies are surely accelerating design rules or developing smart ships," said Fang Quan, vice president of the research institute.