For two industries that have much in common, the difference in the adoption of artificial intelligence on private jets versus AI integration on superyachts is stark. While the aviation industry has been using artificial intelligence in its engines for almost 25-30 years now, the superyacht industry is yet to get started.
So, why the disparity between AI usage on large yachts and private planes? After all, the target market for both is similar, with many ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) owning one (or more) of each asset. If the owners and users of business jets are expecting the best and latest technology for their plane, then why aren`t they asking for the same from their superyacht?
To answer this, it's helpful to have some context. “When you analyse the trends you realise how far the aviation industry is ahead of everybody,” points out Joseph Adir, founder & CEO at WinTech Marine Intelligence. Moderating the AI panel at Quaynote's online conference, The Future for Superyachts, Business Jets and Luxury Property, Adir holds up companies like Netjets and JetEdge whose business models are both heavily reliant on AI. “Netjets currently operate 750 planes that have no set flight schedule from one day to the next. They are all shared owners and decide at the last moment where they want to go.”
Where AI comes in is in making sense of this logistical headache. “Algorithms created by Netjets ensure that planes are where they should be, meeting the needs of clients and all in a cost-efficient way,” he explains.
Indeed, the cost-efficiency afforded by AI should be a powerful argument in its favour. Joining the Artificial Intelligence panel at The Future for Superyachts, Business Jets and Luxury Property, from Hong Kong, Jeffrey C. Lowe, chief executive officer at Asian Sky Group/Asian Sky Media spoke of the benefits of predictive maintenance in “detecting the problem before it becomes a problem,” saving the business jet operator time and money. Using artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance “lets the maintenance facility at the destination know what the problem is, so that they can be ready to fix the problem when the aircraft arrives,” Lowe adds.
For Joseph Adir, whose company Wintech Marine Technology is creating a predictive maintenance system for superyachts, the benefits of AI go hand-in-hand with sustainability. “There is nothing better than AI to improve your performance, reduce fuel consumption, costs and expenses,” he states. “And yet we still build and design yachts the same way it was done 20 years ago.” Given the increasing awareness by yachts and jet owners alike of sustainability issues, the apparent reluctance in the superyacht industry to embrace AI technologies is perplexing.
With so many compelling reasons for the superyacht industry to follow aviation`s lead, Dominic Bulfin, director at Bargate Murray, threw some light on the differences lying at the heart of this discussion. “One difference is that business jets are largely a tool,” he observes. “The jet is not a luxury in itself and I think that`s an important factor in why there's been a delay in yachts adopting technology.” He wonders if yacht builders should be steering owners towards incorporating AI in their newbuilds, educating them about the potential savings, additional safety, etc., that can be gained without compromising on the beauty of the vessel.
Educating buyers is a subject that crops up a lot during discussions about AI. “There is so little information. Many owners aren't aware of how low-tech their boats are,” observes Roger Horner, CEO at E3. “A yacht could benefit from AI in the same way that a plane can.” Dom Bulfin sees that while people are no longer worried about robots taking over the world, some common misconceptions concerning AI persist. “A lot of people still think that our eyes are better than a computer's eyes” he remarks, referencing the Tesla that tracks and displays cars, pedestrians and other potential hazards via its in-car monitor.
Contrast this with the degree of tech awareness in the private aviation space, where synthetic vision is more-or-less standard in all the leading planes, and a picture starts to emerge. “For OEMs, AI/tech is something they talk about in every sale. They're always trying to out-tech the next guy,” asserts Jeff Lowe.
But is this really a critical factor for the client? “The guy at the back, he's into the design of the cabin and everything else, but he still has an ear for the safety, the systems, the maintenance. What makes for him is the availability, making sure that his plane is available more often than not. So yes, he is interested.”
While both jet and yacht owners expect their asset to be readily available, there is arguably a more personalised aspect to the superyacht business. The customisation of the superyacht itself is a key factor that separates it from the business jet. “Planes are fairly homogenous, whereas each and every superyacht is different from the next. A Boeing 737 is a Boeing 737,” says Joseph Adir. “But, on a yacht the engine, navigation systems – everything – is different and this is the challenge for us.” This high level of differentiation creates the need for a very advanced AI platform, which brings its own set of obstacles for the superyacht industry.
Technical challenges can affect AI optimisation in both the yacht and jet industries, but it doesn`t stop there. Vinna Tsang, founder and director at The V Executive Search Company, points out the need for engagement with AI systems at all levels. As an example, she points to inflight systems that work out owner preferences which rely on cabin staff and client services staff to feed it with data. “What we need to think about is how can we gather that intelligence?” she elaborates, “How can we feed this into the system to maximise the client experience? Without this the AI is meaningless.”
So, if properly handled, there appears to be no reason why the superyacht industry cannot enjoy the same AI successes that business aviation has been able to reap for the last two decades. But who will drive this evolution? Will it be the owners, builders or regulators who will push for change?
Drawing on his own experience in the private jet sphere, Jeff Lowe is clear. “I'd love to say that the OEMs are the single source, but the regulators are constantly pushing the industry to make sure they have the best of the best,” he notes. With regulations less stringent in the superyacht industry than for our aviation counterparts, Joseph Adir thinks it is down to yacht builders to drive the change. “There is no way to educate 7,000 owners one by one,” he reasons.
The good news is that exciting developments are already in the pipeline. The commercial shipping industry reported to be two or three years away from launching the autonomous container ship. Moreover, a fully autonomous yacht, the product of a joint venture between a start-up venture and IBM, is set to sail at some point in the future between the UK and New York. The possibilities for superyacht AI look poised to become reality.