Industry » Yacht Technology » Q&A: The Current State of Tech in the Superyacht Industry

Q&A: The Current State of Tech in the Superyacht Industry

Robert is an experienced strategist, entrepreneur, and cybersecurity enthusiast with a passion for problem-solving and challenging the status quo. In his own words, he specialises in the impossible.

Raised internationally and excelling at school, he embarked on a multifaceted career journey, beginning with a pivotal role at Bosch, where he served as a security/mechatronics engineer. Concurrently, he pursued dual majors in theoretical physics and computer engineering across four European universities.

He has since held a range of roles, from full-stack developer and data scientist to senior leadership positions such as VP of IT, head of engineering, chief information security officer (CISO), and lead architect. And if that’s not impressive enough, he has also successfully launched and exited two ventures, demonstrating acumen in navigating the complexities of business ownership.

So why, you might wonder, was Robert speaking to me? What began as an offer to raise his profile in the superyacht industry turned out to be more of an education in the other direction. My questions paraphrase a far lengthier discussion, but the answers are all his own. If straight talking is what you’re looking for, buckle up.

Where did you grow up and where do you consider home?

I had the privilege of experiencing an international upbringing, necessitating frequent relocations every two to three months, living in 30+ countries, and consequently I've come to see the concept of ‘home’ as fluid and adaptable.

As Robert Frost eloquently articulated, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

I firmly hold the belief that ultimately, the significance of location diminishes in comparison to the paramount importance of human capital.

What did you study after school and what were your early ambitions?

Following the completion of my secondary education at the age of 14, thanks to home schooling, my academic pursuits were notably influenced by my childhood fascination with Marvel and DC comics. Inspired by Tony Stark's character in the Iron Man comics, I elected to delve into the disciplines of theoretical physics and computer engineering.

The field of computer engineering offers a comprehensive curriculum integrating elements of robotics, mechatronics, electrical and computer science, furnishing a robust foundation for diverse engineering endeavours.

Concurrently, delving into theoretical physics demanded rigorous engagement with advanced mathematical concepts, facilitating a deeper comprehension of the fundamental laws underpinning engineering principles. Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between mathematics and physics is akin to the indispensable reliance of a vehicle on fuel; one cannot progress substantially without the other.

Motivated by a sense of duty to further the legacy of scientific and engineering pioneers, I endeavoured to expand my understanding across various domains within science and engineering.

It is evident that modern conveniences such as electricity, automobiles, and smartphones are often taken for granted by many, with little consideration for the intricate mechanisms that enable their functionality.

Observing a prevalent disconnect between consumer desires and the fundamental understanding of the technologies that fulfil them, I am compelled to advocate for a more informed approach to education and career aspirations.

An empirical study can be conducted by engaging with students at a typical high school and inquiring about their anticipated purchases. A prevalent trend among their responses often reveals desires for items such as the latest iPhone, fuel for personal vehicles, or new video games. Paradoxically, despite the inclination towards consumer goods, many opt for pursuits in fields such as journalism, political science, history, and other leisure-oriented studies, rather than choosing professions integral to the creation of the commodities they desire. This phenomenon raises concerns regarding the alignment of educational choices with economic productivity and long-term employment opportunities.

In essence, my academic trajectory reflects a conscientious commitment to bridging the gap between consumerism and the foundational disciplines essential for technological advancement and societal progress.

What was your first job and how did you get involved with superyachts?

As a seasoned professional within the technology sector, I have amassed a commendable track record characterised by involvement in diverse projects and the successful establishment of multiple ventures culminating in lucrative exits. However, my foray into the realm of superyachts originated from a serendipitous engagement back in 2017.

Seeking to optimise my use of time, I undertook a part-time freelance assignment focusing on software-related tasks for a prominent entity within the yachting industry. This initial immersion provided a gateway into the intricacies of the maritime domain, affording me the opportunity to rectify numerous software-related challenges while traversing the globe to attend to various vessels.

Swiftly discerning the prevalence of technical inefficiencies, colloquially referred to as ‘technical debt’ within the yachting sector, I recognised an untapped niche with financial potential. Consequently, I embarked on a dual trajectory, concurrently advancing my onshore career in the technology sector while establishing a supplementary enterprise dedicated to furnishing comprehensive technological solutions tailored to the specific needs of maritime clientele.

Leveraging the inherent flexibility afforded by remote operations within the IT landscape, I managed my schedule to accommodate both onshore commitments and offshore engagements. This strategic balance facilitated my rapid integration into the yachting fraternity, fostering collaborative relationships with esteemed professionals (ETO/AV-IT).

My involvement extended beyond mere troubleshooting and software rectification, encompassing a gamut of technical exigencies such as programming programmable logic controllers (PLCs), addressing electrical motor malfunctions, resolving lighting discrepancies, and overseeing the installation of critical bridge equipment from industry stalwarts like Kongsberg and Wärtsilä. Additionally, I undertook responsibilities encompassing the repair, commissioning, and optimisation of VSAT/TVRO and other telecom antennas, amongst other pivotal tasks.

This immersive engagement not only facilitated the acquisition of novel skill sets but also served as a conduit for knowledge amalgamation, gaining insights from collaborative ventures that enriched my proficiency and efficacy within the maritime sector. 

With experience across different sectors, how does yachting compare from a tech perspective?

From my extensive experience spanning diverse sectors, including telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, energy, financial technology, autonomous driving etc, I approach the comparison of yachting from a tech perspective with a nuanced viewpoint. 

To be candid, the prevailing tech landscape within the yachting industry could be characterised as somewhat antiquated, albeit employing a diplomatic term. This observation stems not from a position of disparagement, but rather from a contextual understanding garnered through exposure to cutting-edge initiatives across various international projects.

It's crucial to acknowledge that perspectives on technological sophistication are inherently subjective and contingent upon individual frames of reference. In my case, having been immersed in avant-garde endeavours frequently supported by dedicated research and development initiatives, my benchmark for tech innovation is notably elevated.

Within the yachting sphere, the predominant role assumed by AV/IT-ETOs often aligns more closely with operational and technical support functions rather than true engineering roles. They are technicians/operators that know how to use the tool but could not design/build on their own. One discernible advantage of having a tech-oriented individual aboard yachts lies in their capacity to address the technical needs of esteemed guests, thereby augmenting the overall guest experience. Indeed, the human element remains indispensable in such scenarios, underscoring the intrinsic value of personalised technical support.

Moreover, it's pertinent to note that while many vessels may opt for popular off-the-shelf solutions, popularity and excellence are not necessarily synonymous. In striving for technological excellence, there exists ample opportunity for yachting entities to explore bespoke solutions tailored to their unique requirements, thereby transcending the limitations imposed by conventional approaches.

In essence, the juxtaposition of yachting within the broader tech landscape underscores both its potential for evolution and the imperative of embracing innovative paradigms to ensure relevance and competitiveness in an increasingly tech-centric world. 

What are the typical challenges you face in terms of technical upgrades and refits?

Addressing typical challenges, it’s quickly evident that the complexities extend beyond the realm of purely technical considerations. While technical aspects certainly exist, the overarching hurdles predominantly manifest in logistical intricacies, meticulous planning, effective project management, and the nuanced landscape of interpersonal dynamics, often referred to as politics.

Drawing from my extensive experience, I have observed that a significant proportion of refits encounter obstacles. Surprisingly, a substantial number of these challenges can be attributed to inefficiencies in logistics, inadequate planning frameworks, and the intricate dynamics of stakeholder relations.

It is noteworthy that my experiences have consistently demonstrated a remarkable potential for cost optimisation and timeline streamlining. In many instances, refit projects have been executed with notable efficacy, achieving outcomes that surpass initial estimations both in terms of budget and time by nearly 50%.

A critical insight gleaned from these endeavours pertains to the pivotal role of human capital in project execution. Contrary to conventional assumptions, the geographical location of the refit facility holds minimal significance compared to the calibre of individuals entrusted with overseeing the project. The success of a refit hinges predominantly on the competence and dedication of the personnel entrusted with its execution. 

As such, it is imperative to prioritise the seamless provision of requisite equipment and resources while simultaneously leveraging cost-saving opportunities by selecting refit facilities that offer optimal infrastructure at competitive rates. The strategic deployment of personnel  ensures that expertise can be readily mobilised to any location, thereby optimising resource allocation and enhancing project efficiency.

In summary, the challenges inherent in technical upgrades and refits transcend mere technical complexities, necessitating a holistic approach that encompasses logistical acumen, astute planning and project management, and adept navigation of interpersonal dynamics. Through diligent attention to these multifaceted considerations, the efficacy and success of refit endeavours can be maximised, ultimately ensuring the realisation of project objectives within stipulated parameters.

If you had carte blanche with a newbuild, what would you do differently?

If granted carte blanche authority over a newbuild project, my foremost priority would be to meticulously optimise expenditure to attain maximal value. It is a prevalent industry phenomenon for newbuild/refit costs to escalate beyond warranted levels due to inflated pricing structures commonly associated with ‘yachting commission’.

Mitigating such cost overruns and reallocating resultant surplus capital towards judicious spending would enable procurement of superior quality products and services, thereby augmenting the overall calibre of the project's outcome.

Furthermore, it is imperative to discern that the ubiquity of a solution does not necessarily correlate with its excellence. Rather than succumbing to the allure of off-the-shelf solutions, a strategic emphasis on configuring and fortifying open-source alternatives often yields superior outcomes across both hardware and software domains.

However, effectuating this strategy mandates a cadre of highly skilled engineers possessing profound comprehension of underlying technologies. It is pertinent to acknowledge that such adept professionals are often scarce commodities, contrasting with the comparatively abundant pool of technicians and operators adept at configuring and deploying prefabricated solutions without comprehensive understanding of their underlying principles.

By prioritising fiscal prudence, strategic resource allocation, and the deployment of adept personnel, a newbuild can be imbued with an unparalleled degree of efficiency, efficacy, and excellence, thereby ensuring optimal utilisation of resources and attainment of project objectives. 

What’s your view on the transition to alternative fuels and what are the main barriers?

When considering the transition to alternative fuels within the maritime industry, a comprehensive assessment reveals a multifaceted landscape with distinct opportunities and challenges. Various alternative propulsion options, ranging from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to nuclear, hydrogen, and electric power, present viable alternatives to traditional diesel engines. Each option possesses its own set of advantages and drawbacks, necessitating a nuanced evaluation to inform decision-making.

Chief among the barriers to widespread adoption of alternative fuels are issues related to infrastructure and availability, cost considerations, technological maturity, regulatory uncertainties, collaboration within the industry, and public perception and education. Addressing these barriers demands a concerted effort and strategic planning to foster a conducive environment for transition.

Remote vessels, characterised by reduced personnel requirements compared to conventional vessels, inherently boast a smaller environmental footprint. Custom-developed remote vessels, typically smaller in size, underscore the potential for minimizing environmental impact through tailored design and operation.

However, pivotal to achieving significant emissions reduction is a fundamental shift in power generation methods on board vessels, irrespective of crewed or uncrewed status. The emergence of credible alternative fuel sources such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), ethanol, hydrogen, and battery hybrids signifies progress toward cleaner energy utilisation. Nonetheless, transitioning to alternative fuels necessitates a phased approach, acknowledging the gradual nature of adoption.

Among the array of alternative fuels, ammonia emerges as a promising candidate, offering zero-carbon credentials and logistical advantages. Its inherent ability to mitigate carbon and sulphur emissions, coupled with existing infrastructure for storage and distribution in ports, renders it a compelling option for maritime applications. Nevertheless, challenges persist, including ammonia's slower ignition properties and the complexities associated with onboard processing and utilisation.

Exploring innovative solutions, such as partial cracking of ammonia into constituent elements or leveraging characteristics of both ammonia and hydrogen in high-speed internal combustion engines, holds promise for overcoming technical hurdles. Furthermore, advancements in methanol conversion kits and utilisation of advanced biofuels like hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) serve as transitional measures to bridge the gap toward ammonia-compatible solutions.

In summation, the transition to alternative fuels within the maritime sector demands a judicious balance of technological innovation, regulatory support, industry collaboration, and informed decision-making guided by empirical data. By navigating these challenges with foresight and strategic planning, the maritime industry can navigate toward a sustainable and environmentally conscious future. 

What are some of your observations in terms of competence and hiring within the yachting industry?

It is imperative to navigate this subject with utmost caution and discretion. Similar to other professional domains, the yachting sector is not immune to prevalent biases and challenges inherent in the hiring process.

Regrettably, instances of intellectual dishonesty can manifest, leading to attempts to discredit others in a bid to elevate one's own standing. Furthermore, issues stemming from insecurity may precipitate reluctance to hire individuals perceived as intellectually superior, thereby hindering the cultivation of a truly meritocratic environment. 

Cronyism and nepotism represent additional hurdles in the hiring landscape, whereby personal connections and familial relationships are prioritised over qualifications and merit. Such practices undermine the principles of fairness and impartiality, fostering an environment devoid of genuine opportunity for deserving candidates.

Equally concerning is the phenomenon of nationality-based hiring preferences, whether overtly or subtly manifested. Opting for candidates of a specific nationality or prioritising superficial attributes such as national diversity detracts from the core objective of selecting the most qualified individual for a given role.

Fundamentally, hiring decisions should be anchored in an objective assessment of skills, competence, and character, devoid of extraneous considerations such as ethnicity, gender, or religious affiliation. The principle of meritocracy demands that individuals be evaluated based solely on their ability to fulfil the requirements of the role and contribute meaningfully to organisational objectives.

It is imperative to underscore the importance of fostering an inclusive and equitable hiring culture that values diversity of thought, experience, and perspective. While certain ancillary factors such as language proficiency or additional skills may warrant consideration, they do not depend on nationality.

Moreover, cultural nuances and social norms must be approached with sensitivity, recognising that interpretations of behaviour may vary across different contexts. Nonetheless, the overarching principle remains steadfast: hiring decisions should be predicated on the merits of the individual and their capacity to excel in their respective roles.

Ultimately, the pursuit of excellence and innovation necessitates a steadfast commitment to meritocracy, wherein individuals are afforded equal opportunities to thrive and contribute, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, or any other extrinsic characteristic.

You’re passionate about what you call intellectual honesty – what do you mean by this?

Intellectual honesty, as I define it, entails the principled commitment to making decisions rooted in empirical evidence and objective data rather than relying on subjective feelings, unfounded opinions, or unsubstantiated beliefs. It encapsulates a dedication to truthfulness and transparency, both in one's interactions with others and in self-assessment.

A salient illustration of intellectual honesty manifests in the context of personal accountability and self-awareness. Consider the scenario of an individual striving to achieve weight loss goals. While some may openly acknowledge their preferences for indulgence over adherence to a disciplined regimen, others may deceive themselves by attributing their lack of progress to external factors rather than confronting the reality of their choices.

Similarly, punctuality and reliability in fulfilling commitments serve as barometers of intellectual honesty. Those who prioritise efficient time management and uphold their word demonstrate integrity and respect for others' time. Conversely, individuals who offer vague excuses such as being ‘busy’ without genuine justification may be engaging in intellectual dishonesty by obfuscating the true reasons for their actions or inaction.

Moreover, effective communication practices underscore the importance of promptly responding to correspondence, be it emails, calls, or messages. While legitimate circumstances may occasionally preclude immediate responses, maintaining open lines of communication reflects a commitment to professionalism and accountability. Employing disingenuous excuses undercuts this principle, revealing a lack of sincerity and integrity.

In essence, intellectual honesty fosters a culture of integrity, transparency, and accountability, both in personal conduct and professional interactions. By adhering to the principles of truthfulness and objectivity, individuals uphold the integrity of their decision-making processes and cultivate trust and respect.

What motivates you and who inspires you?

My motivation stems from a deep-seated recognition of the finite nature of life and a steadfast determination to maximise the impact and significance of my existence within the temporal confines afforded to me. Each passing moment serves as a poignant reminder of the preciousness of time, spurring me onward to seize opportunities, pursue goals, and effect positive change in both my personal endeavours and broader spheres of influence.

The resilience and fortitude displayed by individuals in the face of adversity, coupled with their unwavering commitment to noble ideals and causes, serve as a beacon of inspiration, guiding my own journey of self-discovery and growth.

On a personal level, what are you most proud of?

Individuals who embody intellectual honesty, resilience, and resourcefulness, making the most of the cards they have been dealt. 

Many would say time is the most valuable asset but you say the future of wealth is sanity – please expand?

The ongoing evolution of economics is reaching a pivotal juncture, bordering on rendering traditional paradigms obsolete. Advancements in production techniques and technology have enabled humanity to extract unprecedented wealth from finite resources, ostensibly fulfilling an extensive array of earthly desires and needs. Yet, despite the potential celebration of such economic strides, human nature remains entrenched in pettiness, greed, and jealousy.

Instead of embracing lives of leisure and abundance, many individuals in developed nations find themselves consumed by envy over superficial disparities in material possessions and status symbols. This fixation on material wealth not only detracts from the appreciation of one's current blessings but also blinds individuals to the vast potential for richer, more fulfilling lives.

Compounding this issue is the pervasive influence of socialist ideology ingrained within contemporary political and educational systems, perpetuating a mindset of entitlement and resentment. However, the myopic focus on monetary wealth fails to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of true prosperity, encompassing attributes such as physical attractiveness, athleticism, love, creativity, social connections, personal achievements, and overall wellbeing. 

Even in a hypothetical socialist utopia, the inherent human tendency towards envy would persist, irrespective of material equality. This societal discord is exacerbated by various socio-political movements and agendas, which only serve to further divide and inflame tensions.

Amidst the chaos and discontent prevalent in the current landscape, it is understandable if many feel disillusioned or aggrieved. Whether through a sense of intuition or critical discernment, individuals may perceive the inherent flaws and injustices within prevailing socio-economic structures.

However, there exists a glimmer of hope amidst this tumultuous landscape. The very concept of wealth is undergoing a profound redefinition, transcending mere material possessions to encompass a holistic spectrum of human experiences and virtues. While external forces may seek to encroach upon and redistribute material wealth, they ultimately cannot confiscate the intangible elements that constitute true fulfilment and contentment.

In essence, the future of wealth lies not in the accumulation of possessions or monetary assets, but rather in the preservation and cultivation of sanity, perspective, and inner peace. Amidst the clamour of societal upheaval, it is imperative to prioritise these enduring qualities as the true markers of prosperity and wellbeing.

If there is one problem on a world scale that you’d like to fix, what would that be?

I will remove all borders, implement true capitalism worldwide, create a very basic set of rules that will be well enforced and let the free market manage itself based on the simplicity of freedom. It won’t be fair, but it’s better than the alternatives.

What do you enjoy doing in your downtime?

My life consists of working, going to the gym, hiking, listening to podcasts and having interesting conversations.

What will you be doing in 10 years?

I can’t predict the future, hopefully still breathing :)

Our thanks to Robert and to Quay Crew for facilitating the connection.

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