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The Superyacht of Things

The meme the Internet of things has been around for quite a while.

Microsoft swears by it and have bet the company on it. This super mysterious term just means that things are all connected by some kind of interface. Every ‘thing’ talks to another ‘thing’.

Things are things. Some things talk and think. Some grow. Some things seem to do nothing. People are things. Trees are things. A superyacht is a thing.

But what is the superyacht of things? Take the Peloton bike, for example. Take away the live streaming content and it is just an ordinary gym bike. It is your subscription to the online content that gives it value. This is business as a service.  Think of the superyacht of the future in this way.

Everything is everything.

The superyacht of things is coming to a berth near you.  A fancier way to describe the Internet of things is an integrated conglomerate of intelligence expressed digitally. Lights, engines, showers, menus, galley, tenders, health, components, circuit boards, lifts, stabilizers, navigational systems..even stress levels, crew and guests vital life signs and well being, all aspects of a yacht will be interfaced. Even the flowers will be chipped. The only thing to be immune to this frenzy of connectivity is water and the ocean.

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This connectivity is not so hard to achieve. You can know everything about a bundle of spring onion on a supermarket shelf by checking its bar code, from its origin in a farm, the field, the name of the grower,  all the way through its logistics history to its sell-by date. A lowly spring onion. Think about what you could do with a superyacht costing hundreds of millions to build.

Chips with everything.

The technology is there. Onboard 4G and even 5G are being integrated into communication systems. Companies such as  CELLweavers offer technology that enables the establishment of an on-board Internet connection that is both highly reliable and four times faster than regular 4G devices. All you have to do with is chip everything on board so it communicates with everything else.

This concept of connectivity between things started out in physics in theory called quantum entanglement, which is itself draws inspiration from Indian and Platonic esoteric philosophy. Boffins exploring quantum particles found that a particle exists in either an uncertain or certain state. When a particle collides with another, even though the two travel different paths and are in different locations, their status is synchronized. They behave as if they were in the same place. So if one particle is in an uncertain state, the other particle is too. And they change in harmony as if networked. The holy grail of physics is too find out how this entanglement happens and how the network operates.
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All network structures are an attempt to achieve quantum entanglement. The technology of the internet of things, though a huge step up in terms of sophistication, is essentially a development of what is already available. What is truly revolutionary is the change in the relationship between the provider of products incorporating this tech and the consumers. The shift will be seismic, even evolutionary.

Traditionally a consumer buys a product. The supplier may sell after service but the product is the property of the buyer. Increasingly a supplier incorporates software into their product and, herein lies the rub, retains ownership of the software that enables the functionality of the product.

The product can be manufactured in China, Malaysia, India, any low cost country. It is the software that defines the product. The actual use of the product is controlled by the supplier, not the manufacturer or the user.Embed from Getty Images

 

In primeval days you picked up a stick and you did what you wanted to do with that stick. It’s my stick and I will do what I want with it. I can poke someone in the eye with it or scratch around in tree bark for bugs to eat.

Not any more. In the 5G world, that stick will be chipped to function as the supplier has programmed it. Withdraw supplier consent and the stick ceases to function. Nobody will tell you what to do with your stick, but they can restrict what you can do with it.

An example of this occurred during the onslaught of hurricane Dorian. Drivers of some Tesla economy cars found that certain features had been unlocked. These vehicles had identical 75kWh lithium-ion battery packs to the more expensive 75D models, but they were Software-locked. Engineers remotely allowed the lower spec models access to the higher-spec features. The software guys defined from another country what that product could or couldn’t do – even though they did not own the product.

Integrated software has established a new dynamical relationship between the supplier and the user. It’s known as software as a service. Software as a way of retaining control. Dere tractors operate as long as you subscribe to the software. If you make any changes then your tractor ceases to function

 

How will this effect the superyacht industry?

The Superyacht of things will be exposed to outside control. Not a big deal,  perhaps,  given that superyachts are already scope limited by convention, weather and the law of physics. But when technology is controlled externally, confidentiality goes out of the window.  With so much of the software that controls a superyacht’s things owned externally, the definition of ownership becomes ambiguous.

This is all very much theoretical and will have no impact on the current generation of superyachts. But when change kicks in, it can do so with breathtaking speed. And suddenly we cease to be owners of things but consumers of services. The definition of a yacht’s owner will change. An owner will be a person (or fiscal entity) that has exclusive access to a yacht’s services. Who then actually owns the yacht?

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