The fundamentals of innovation certainly involve investing in R&D, as you would expect, but there’s much more to it than that. It’s also about having people with the right mix of foresight, together with a broad understanding of the maritime industry.
But there is another essential ingredient and that is having a team of innovators that have the freedom to innovate. Free from barriers that hold back creative thinking and often prevent the best ideas from getting anywhere near reality. Successful innovators need to have the freedom to explore new and often unfamiliar ideas.
We’re at a very exciting point in the history of shipping. You could say we’re reaching one of those fundamental points, just like the transition from sail to coal, or more recently the containerisation of shipping. And that point in history is about ship intelligence.
Think about containerisation. It was one of the most fundamental changes that the industry has ever seen. And, while it did take many years to become the norm, it was a transformational step and one that changed the industry forever. The growth in digital technology today and how it will be adopted by our industry is that next fundamental step.
Within Rolls-Royce we have what we call the Blue Ocean team, and that’s a group of people where we do have that freedom to consider new and exciting ideas without the constraints that can sometimes hold back the transformational ideas, which can often be then case in large organisations.
In the past innovation has tended to be driven more by regulation forcing industry to act. What we’re seeing today in the field of Ship Intelligence is that innovation is being triggered by developments in technology elsewhere and also broader societal acceptance of new digital capability.
One way of creating the future is to create a future market opportunity, and the long term value that goes with it. Think smart phones. Only ten years ago the very idea that you could manage your life through a small glass screen, was considered not only disruptive technology, but almost impossible.
In some ways it’s like the automotive industry showing off its latest concept cars. It gives you the opportunity to look, consider and dream about what the future might look like. In order to get game-changing technology into the marketplace it is vital you get wide industry backing for your ideas.
Just look how those small devices have changed the way the world communicates and does business—how would you cope without one? I strongly believe that the shipping industry is ready for disruptive innovation. Not disruption in the sense of creating problems, but disruptive in the way of challenging traditional ways of thinking that will ultimately spawn the new ideas and technologies that will shape the future of shipping.
Interest in digital shipping has gathered pace rapidly over the last two years and as we have engaged more and more with stakeholders, there is real traction in the future possibilities, including autonomous operation. The latter is an area which is indeed edging towards reality.
What’s different now is that we’re seeing a great deal of interest from innovators outside of our traditional maritime community. The debate on ship intelligence has allowed us to stimulate the development of what has the potential to be a real game changer for shipping, and the more credible the possibilities, the more visible future goals we have to focus on.
Another difference we see is the speed of innovation today. Digital development is moving extremely fast within society. You only have to look at examples like Spotify, Uber and Airbnb to see how quickly disruptive change is happening to rapidly create new market opportunities.
We’ve recently been involved in an exciting research project in Finland, the result of which was that we were able to demonstrate to the world via digital simulation what a shore based control centre, remotely managing a fleet of ships, could look like. It may look very futuristic and may not become a reality for 10, 15 or 20 years, but it’s really important to get these innovations out there and test the market reaction whenever you can.
In some ways it’s a bit like the automotive industry showing off its latest concept cars. It gives you the opportunity to look, consider and dream about what the future might just look like. The more prominent the prospect of intelligent shipping becomes, the more interest we get from innovators outside our normal sphere of operation. For example, from small start-ups. They can offer a different dynamic in terms of the ability to innovate. They tend to have more freedom and can move quickly.
We are adopting similar ways of working both within our own teams but also working with other technologists who can bring in a blend of innovation that we don’t necessarily have.
I’ve been asked before whether our industry needs a more formal approach to innovation. I actually favour a much less formal approach, unconstrained by bureaucracy. However, in order to get game-changing technology into the marketplace, it is vital that you get a wide industry backing for your ideas.
For me it is about the pace of innovation and whether or not there is an appetite for disruption. I really believe we are going to see change happening much more quickly than we have in the past.
Images credit © Getty Images/Rolls-Royce
Oskar Levander joined Rolls-Royce in 2012 as VP Innovation, Engineering & Technology, Marine. Before this, he worked for most of his career in Wärtsilä where he held various roles, most recently as Director, Concept Design, Marine Lifecycle Solutions. He graduated with honours from Helsinki University of Technology in 2000, with a MSc in Naval Architecture. Oskar has been working mostly with the development of new ship design concepts and propulsion solutions for various ship types. Deeply involved in the development of more energy efficient ships and an active force in promoting the marine use of LNG, most recently Oskar has been associated with Rolls-Royce’s Ship Intelligence solutions and projects around autonomous/unmanned ships.
This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Futurenautics.read online and subcribe