On stage at the Superyacht Design Symposium this week, I proposed three ways in which technology is going to transform the superyacht in the coming years. You may have no interest in these playthings of the hyperwealthy. But the same trends are going to transform the more mundane world the rest of us inhabit.
The first transformation is the ubiquity of connected computing combined with highly powerful AIs. The history of computing is a history of shrinking devices with ever-improving user interfaces, taking us from alien mainframes that forced us to communicate on their terms, to sensor-laden devices that try to interpret our behaviours. The next obvious step is devices that vanish into the environment around us and interact by anticipating our needs and responding without any manual intervention.
In a yacht context this likely means smaller crews, as in every other field of work. But it also means much more responsive machines. Spaces that transform themselves, fully autonomous lighting, heating and entertainment — all increasingly normal as part of any smart home. But imagine a boat that automatically orients itself to the sunset based on where you’re sat.
My research into energy for a report I’m assembling with the law firm Nabarro, has made it abundantly clear that the future is solar and electric. Combining next generation solar cells with advanced battery technologies makes for incredible changes in the possibilities of yacht design.
Metal-air batteries will have energy densities comparable to fossil fuels. With high performance solar cells, much smaller reserves of energy will be required. And what there is will be much more flexible in terms of layout. No more fuel tanks — sometimes measuring hundreds of thousands of litres. Instead batteries can be incorporated into the structure and distributed throughout the hull. Motors too can me much more efficiently placed, will be lighter, quieter and simpler to maintain.
There are solar yachts right now but they are the G-Whizz’s of the water-born world. What’s coming is more like a Tesla.
Perhaps the most exciting opportunity is in new materials. Like other industries focused on high performance, the yacht industry has been fast to adopt new carbon-based materials. But these are a mere first step towards the incredible possibilities presented by various forms of graphene, and other recently-discovered and nano-engineered materials.
Integrated functions like heating, or panel displays, will save huge amounts of space and weight. Exponential increases in strength to weight will enable the realisation of incredible designs, to date unfeasible.
Together these three technological transformations will change the perceived impact of technology on the design and operation of superyachts, as it will on the infrastructure of all our lives.
Technology today is intrusive: garish screens, noisy engines, over-sized structures. Tomorrow’s technology is not only finer, lighter, and quieter, it actively works to get out of our way. It doesn’t need manual control to work on our behalf.