Maritime CEO

Orca AI: Israeli start-up’s collision avoidance system provides clarity

The shipping industry should be more open to new technology solutions to improve navigation safety as artificial intelligence is reshaping all modes of transport, while it could also pave the way for the development of autonomous shipping. That’s the view held by Yarden Gross, CEO and co-founder of Orca AI, an Israeli start-up focusing on ship collision avoidance systems.

Gross has seen a slow adoption of new technologies in the shipping industry, as shipowners are hesitant to turn over control of their ships to automated systems and prefer to rely on their trusted crews and captains.

“They understand the value that new technologies can bring to the table, but for them, the ship is just too important and expensive to hand over to a system that they don’t yet trust,” Gross says.

This hesitation has led to an overall lag in the widespread adoption of new technologies that can help avoid collisions, Gross reckons, adding that the current systems onboard ships, such as radar, have quite a few shortcomings including being incapable of operating effectively under harsh weather conditions and accurately detecting and tracking multiple vessels at the same time.

Consequently, navigation in crowded waterways usually relies on the judgment and skill of the crew, which leads to human error – the chief culprit of collisions.

Another issue Gross notices is the flow of too much information to the bridge without actionable insights, which could lead to a situation where important information is overlooked.

Gross believes one of the primary challenges in improving navigation safety is earning the trust of the shipowners and the crews, who are hesitant to rely on new systems from outsiders, and to overcome the hurdle, supplementation, not replacement, is key at this stage, enabling crews to make more informed decisions in hard to navigate situations.

Orca AI is focusing on a crucial element of maritime safety that hasn’t yet been adequately addressed, by developing a collision avoidance system that targets the hardest to navigate situations, namely low-visibility scenarios and crowded waterways, utilising thermal, low-light, and long-distance cameras, the solution integrates with systems already onboard such as AIS, GNSS, and ARPA, to provide crew with clear, relevant information on hazards in the waters ahead.

The company secured a $2.6m in seed funding in January.

“Artificial Intelligence is what is powering the new solutions coming to the market and what fuels the coming generation of navigation tools that help tackle the challenges the industry is facing. However, training these systems requires a large amount of data from various scenarios in all types of weather, lighting, and navigational conditions, and at present, there is not a data set large enough,” Gross says, adding that Orca AI is currently working to create such a data set.

Gross suggests the industry should start by adopting tools that can be used by crews to improve safety in certain situations that are known to be hard to navigate and have a high rate of collisions, such as navigating crowded waterways and port entry, and he believes the development of these solutions is also a key part in gradually moving towards fully autonomous ships, which theoretically will improve maritime safety by eliminating the possibility of human error.

“While we have been focusing a lot of our efforts on increasing safety today, we are also laying the groundwork for an increasingly autonomous future. Smart tools that perform well know will only get better, and as more tools that handle various elements of navigation and shipping are perfected, bringing all the elements together will help to create a safer and smarter industry for everyone,” Gross concludes.


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