The 10th Conference on High-Performance Marine Vehicles (HIPER) picked “Technologies for the Ship of the Future” as its key theme. The conference will be held from 17–19 October 2016 in Cortona/Italy.
First held in the year 1999, HIPER celebrates its 10th edition with a theme that will stimulate a lot of interest and debate in our community: How will ships and shipping look like 20 - 30 years from now? Research laboratories and advanced thinkers in industry meet and share their sometimes bold and exciting visions with a wider public. The conference appeals to the “practical dreamers” looking beyond the traditional maritime horizon. Stay away if the future scares you! But for the modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, this conference combines creativity with engineering innovation in a renaissance setting in Tuscany.
Some 50 papers are expected to present highlights from key areas of future (and futuristic) ships:
Friction reduction technologies – Frictional resistance dominates for virtually all ships and its relative importance is growing in these times of slow-steaming. Air lubrication is one approach to reduce friction, essentially by separating water and hull using carpets of air bubbles or thin air films. There are many variations on this theme and many ears perked up when Silverstream Technologies and Shell Shipping went public with reports of successful sea trials in 2015. Another approach uses compliant coatings mimicking the skin of dolphins or nano-structures mimicking shark skin. Such coatings delay flow separation and keep vortices and fouling at bay, at least in theory and in laboratory tests. Fouling increases friction dramatically and future sustainable shipping is likely to shun chemical-toxic approaches. What may “green” coatings of the future look like? Again, biologically inspired nano-structures are seen by some as the solution, while others present prototypes for smart cleaning robots that resemble underwater lawn mowers which would work on hard ceramic coatings during each port stay. Yet another solution may be found in smart surfaces that flex when an organism settles on them, much as we shrug away flies reflexively. Pipe dreams, science fiction? It works already in the laboratory, so we should be careful in jumping to conclusions on some of these ideas.
Unconventional propulsion – really? Maybe wind assisted propulsion will become conventional 30 years from now. Lower speeds and higher fuel prices may see a much wider adoption of wind propulsion and possibly other renewable-energy concepts, such as solar and wave propulsion. There are many variations on the theme, but all involve largely automatic and highly efficient systems. HIPER’s unconventional thinkers also challenge the traditional propeller, looking for inspiration in Mother Nature. Squid, whale or flagella bacteria? Just a few of the animals that inspire ideas for new propulsion concepts. Many of these ideas are currently being tested on marine robots.
Towards zero emissions – Heavy fuel oil will be a thing of the past by 2030. But what will be its replacement? LNG is certainly on the rise and by 2030 we should have refueling stations along the major shipping lines. This will solve problems with many emissions, but not the greenhouse gases. Countries with clean electrical energy, foremost Norway, have pushed the technology for electric propulsion. Similar to cars, we expect to see hybrid vessels which use electrical power in coastal waters and ports and switch to fossil fuels for open ocean passage. Other ideas revolve around hydrogen fuel blends or bio-fuels. These become more convincing if they come from offshore algae farming. With new fuels, we will also see new energy converters and diesel engines may give way to fuel cells and batteries.
Future & futuristic designs – We all like a “cool” design, whether it is for a megayacht or an offshore supply vessel. And why shouldn’t ships of the future not make our hearts beat faster as they used to in the past? Engineering meets aesthetics in some sessions of HIPER, with multihulls in the lead. German avant-garde shipyard Abeking & Rasmussen asks cheekily: “1,2,3 – how many hulls should a high-performance vessel have?”. And some designers may answer four or five. Catamaran, trimaran, quadramaran or pentamaran. Anybody offering more? But for ships transporting people (and this includes the many service boats needed for the offshore oil & gas and wind power industries) there is a noticeable preference for multihulls in design studies. And new designs may come with new design approaches. Ship design will involve ever more the computer, but this does not mean that the human will play a lesser role. Human centered design is one of the buzz-words for the future. In designing ships for easy operation, we will employ similar techniques as the automotive industry. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will support this approach, making ships safer and more pleasant to “drive”. Multi-disciplinary engineering will support virtual prototyping. Powerful numerical towing tanks will optimize ships for realistic operational profiles, including propeller and all appendages. The power of simulation will also support the development and integration of new materials and assembly techniques. Composites and adhesive bonding were yesterday’s materials. Metal foams, Graphene and transparent aluminum alloys will shape our future designs. And the researchers are already thinking about embedding solar panels in decks and walls and having self-healing materials which would close cracks or scratches.
Connected & smart – Future ship operation will exploit the possibilities of exponentially increasing satellite bandwidth, not to mention the insights that Big Data has to offer. Whether the unmanned ship will happen or not is ultimately a decision that society has to make and it should come through a consensus. And this will take time, discussion and gradual testing of components. But we may sit in self-driving cars or unmanned trains by 2030, and accept unmanned ships as easily as we accept wireless telephones today. Giampiero Soncini, patron of HIPER 2016 and CEO of SpecTec, brings it to the point: “Homo Maritimus and Homo Informaticus: Can they coexist?” The response that the first announcement of HIPER 2016 has received can make us optimistic in this respect. Not only can they coexist, they seem to cross-breed and become a new species, the Homo Maritimus Informaticus!
One can’t help but wonder how the program for HIPER 2016 will continue to evolve. The conference seems to have struck a chord in the industry and attracted already an impressive list of technology leaders and avant-garde thinkers. There is still time to join them.