We talk about startups in the context of accelerators, specifically Techstars that partners with Eastern Pacific Shipping. AI, robotics, and drones are key technologies that are being brought to bear in shipping by several highly innovative startups in Singapore. They have the potential to significantly reduce harmful emissions and increase profitability.
One of the companies that Claus is working with is F-drones. It's a Singapore company that is building drones specifically for shipping and oil and gas sector. They are designed to move freight to and from ships. Their vision is to build a 100 kilometer, 100 kilogram drone - a uniquely interesting sector for shipping.
There's a lot of concern about people coming onto ships unless they really have to, so using a drone to avoid having to be on a launch boat and bring things to the vessel in bags, oil samples and things like that. You can save a lot of money and emissions using such drones.
F-drones leverage so-called ‘zero dead weight propulsion’. They shift the propellers around so they can take off vertically but fly more like aircraft, increasing efficiency by a lot.
Of course, F-drones need approval and collaboration from two different regulatory agencies. One is aviation, the other is maritime and port authority. Both are difficult. But Singapore is very friendly and open to startups and allows experimentation and innovation to happen while still obviously managing the risk carefully. Singapore is also one of the most economically free markets in the world and it's really easy to incorporate a company there. For investors for large corporations, in particular for startups, Singapore is a vibrant innovation space.
Another challenge for maritime startups is that in shipping, innovation takes longer and you can’t change things overnight - whatever the platform or technology solution that you have
Another startup that Techstars has accelerated is Spoolify. This is a marketplace for services like diving and cleaning etc. Users can search for services that they need in a particular area. The software is pretty clever and tries to match you to the best fit for you and you can do negotiation and collaboration on the platform. By cutting out the middle men, this type of solution increases transparency and reduces trading friction.
Two Techstars startups, Nido Robotics and Aliciabots, are hull inspection and cleaning robotics companies. Aliciabots are creating lightweight robots - less than 15 kilos - that are also highly autonomous. They are cheap enough that you can rent them as a service, eliminating any capex worries. This also means you can put them on the vessel, rather than restrict operation to a smaller set of ports. That means you can do hull ‘grooming’, making sure that fouling never progresses beyond the slime stage. As we learned at GreenSteam, once you go beyond that it becomes hard to clean the hull without damaging the coating.
In terms of revolutionary new hull coatings development, AI and digital simulation play important roles because of the high dimensionality of the search space. It is impossible to test all combinations, say ingredients for new hull coatings, in real life. Simulation can allow cheaper synthetic experimentation and AI can guide the optimization towards the optimal recipe (ingredients and process steps) much faster than traditional methods like ‘design of experiments.’
Captain's Eye is a Techstars-accelerated company that uses AI and machine learning to analyze live video to identify dangerous situations. For example, improper PPE wear and risky mooring operations. This can be seen as an example of leap-frogging; while shipping has been behind in computer vision applications, once it gets going the pace can be faster because all the technology has been developed elsewhere.
Edge computing is important for on-board AI applications today but as latency drops and bandwidth increases, it is hard to tell if this will still be the case five or ten years from now.
A major strength of this type of focused accelerator is the emergence of synergies between the startups. For example, an AI company and a robotics company may find great, natural synergies that they would not have discovered without the connection having been made by the accelerator.
“Why could you not use ships as nodes in a mesh network to transmit data, like the internet itself?” - Claus Nehmzow.
“It's all about open collaboration. We have no exclusivity with any of these startups in the Techstars accelerator. In fact, we want them to work with all of the other shipping companies as soon as they want.” - Claus Nehmzow.