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Startup Profile: Orca AI

Accidents in the maritime industry are still an issue and may happen all to often, but Israeli start-up Orca has a solution which it believes will reduce this and also help the industry step closer to its digital vision, writes Samantha Fisk.

It has been said, by many, that shipping doesn’t make mainstream news unless there is an accident, particularly an accident where the safety for those onboard is put at risk or cargo spilled into the sea. Shipping then has a bad press day And while there is a call for the industry to become more visible, it has to be recognised that this industry still has its risks and safety concerns, particularly in congested waters such as the roads n and out of major ports and choke points such as the Singapore Straits.

Digitalisation of the maritime industry has been touted as a way that it will increase the safety of crew and ships that navigate these tricky areas.  Many shipboard incidents are down to human error, a factor well noted by insurance companies and P&I Clubs. Orca AI is one of the new breed of start-ups that thinks it has an answer, a way to reduce risks of collisions, allisions, groundings and other costly incidents that boil down to human error.

Orca AI co-founder Yarden Gross believes safety trends are going the wrong way. “Many accidents are still happening and growing in number and this is mainly down to human error due to low visibility and not getting the right information through,” he said when introducing his company to Fathom World.

The start-up company was founded in 2018 with an idea to develop more digital solutions for the market working towards a vision of more autonomy in the shipping industry. The solution that Orca has brought to the market is a digital bridge navigation system that incorporates vision sensors to enable better navigation for bridge teams.

These sensors detect objects around a vessel, the data is collected, used in algorithms (as most data seems to be these days) and relayed to a display system on the bridge. The company notes that the system has been designed for safety in mind and the sensors can pick up virtually any object around a vessel.  Gross also notes that tapping into this data is also important for other stakeholders. Orca AI owns the data, but has restrictions to how it can be used, with customers allowed full access to it if they choose.

With further optimisation of digital solutions, decisions will be enhanced and safety improved and with the future prospect of autonomous ships, crew may also be removed from the immediate dangers completely.

However, getting there will take time notes Gross as the maritime industry hasn’t been quick to react to adopting digital solutions and the technology is still developing as demands from customers vary as do the vessels that they get installed on.

Adding to this more recently has been the Coronavirus pandemic, which for a lot of technology companies have seen a recent influx of orders for digital solutions that allow owners to still operate and mitigate the restrictions that the pandemic has brought to businesses globally. However, that hasn’t been the case for Orca. The company has seen demand for its solution decline as the shipping industry has slowly been impacted by the pandemic.

Gross stays positive for the future though, commenting that the company expects to see the market bounce back nearer to the end of the year. With this it is expected that there will also be a further acceleration of digital tools being adopted by the market. Gross explains that better efficiencies can be gained in the future from digital solutions onboard vessels and is now impacting most segments, “software will change and disrupt the industry.”

To build better autonomy in the industry and work towards the idea of autonomous ships Gross has likened his own company’s developments to that of building a brain of a vessel to navigate from A-B. For this you also need lots of data, which equates to millions of images.

Gross believes that up to 92% of navigation errors are down to human error. The use of autonomous systems, with advanced AI, that help bridge teams with their roles, could help significantly reduce this high number he says.

Autonomous systems need to learn, and therefore systems such as Orca AI need to be put on vessels, to enable the data to be collected, and the artificial intelligence allowed to learn, so the solutions can be developed and advanced. Because until they have learnt, and proven to be foolproof and accurate, authorities, ship operators and crews will not trust, allow or invest in them. But with the potential gains in safety and accident reduction these are seen as developments worth making.

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