An interview with Louis-Robert Cool, Founder of Seafar
Seafar develops technology to operate and manage unmanned barges and small vessels. We are based in Antwerp and our team is specialized in maritime robotics and software, with a strong focus on operational efficiency. We all share the same motivation, a passion for the maritime industry and introducing new technologies. Together with our team we have developed a service that can accelerate innovation in this industry.
Our service benefits the ship owners, by automating their vessels and connecting them to a shore control centre. The unmanned vessel can navigate detailed routes and via the control centre, a shore captain can intervene when necessary. In the future we envision a shore captain being responsible for multiple vessels.
The use of automated or unmanned barges opens a wide range of new opportunities for small cargo shipping, offsetting the shortage of personnel and the reduction of operating expenses while also optimizing maintenance, reducing fuel costs, decreasing the chance of accidents and maximizing cargo space.
A common criticism of automation is that it impacts the job market – robots taking over, taking our jobs and so on. However, one of the biggest problems for vessel owners in the future is the shortage of crew. A career onboard a vessel does not appeal to young people anymore as it was the case in the past. On smaller vessels this shortage is already noticeable today. Automation can be the solution for this problem while also increasing the efficiency of the vessel. This will benefit the entire inland shipping industry, as smaller vessels are equally important for a modal shift. In order to exploit the full potential of our waterway network and make inland navigation more attractive and competitive, innovation must be accelerated.
Land-based “Maritime” Captains
At Seafar we foresee that the role of the captain will change. It might seem counter-intuitive, but in the future, we see a maritime career occurring primarily on land as opposed to the sea. Automated vessels are more likely to change the jobs in the sector rather than replacing them. This evolution will also attract new skills and personnel to the sector, because with automation comes the need for a different set of qualifications and skills.
Authorities Excited for Unmanned Shipping
The biggest present challenge is the legal framework. However, the developments concerning unmanned shipping are done in close cooperation with De Vlaamse Waterweg and the Port of Antwerp. The authorities are supporting organizations to test their new technologies in the existing legislative framework. It is an immense opportunity for the sector that authorities are a driver to implement innovative solutions, it shows real foresight. The first unmanned barges will sail soon!