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How will AI impact the superyacht industry?
20th August 2023
Artificial intelligence software that creates images from text input has been disrupting industries around the world. But does it have a role in yachting? Camper & Nicholsons asks four industry stakeholders about their predictions for the future of the technology.

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How will AI impact the superyacht industry?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability for technology to gather, synthesise, then act upon information. Machine learning means that this intelligence is refined further, as a computer gets better and better at its task, until it can imitate – or even surpass – human endeavour. Which naturally raises questions. Is AI safer at steering a tender than a deckhand? Will industry roles evolve or be reduced? Who oversees the robots? Little wonder that AI has been christened the greatest innovation of the 21st century, as well as humanity’s greatest existential threat.

For yachting, the potential benefits are manifold. AI could predict the best destination to position a yacht for charter success by investigating millions of data points, then calculating the best place to anchor and the fuel usage to get there. Computers could reach out to clients at opportune times with up-to-the-second information, then envision a buyer’s queries before they ask them.

By canvassing four voices from four differing industry roles, locations, and generations, we can build a picture of how AI might recalibrate the luxury yacht industry. The conclusion? The tech is far from perfect, but the future looks autonomous.

Luca Dini, Yacht Designer

Luca Dini doesn’t mince his words. “We are witnessing, in terms of scale and ambition of the projects delivered, something never seen before in the recent history of humanity,” he asserts. The Italian luxury yacht designer is planning for a world in which AI is commonplace. “We have a dedicated team of visionaries in our practice,” continues Luca. “Their sole focus is on research and development of new technologies, including the implementation of AI and the Internet of Things.”

Will AI take over yacht design? “Not yet, thank God!” Luca exclaims. “I still have the last word on the ultimate look of a yacht and how I present it to my client.” Instead, Luca sees AI’s current use as an intelligent tool to scope out ideas during the design process.

For Luca, the best use of AI in the future will be to enhance onboard comfort. “We recently developed a new concept of an intelligent domotic,” he explains. It’s essentially a home automation system that controls appliances, climate, and entertainment systems. For example, it could learn from customer habits – from a melancholic song choice on Spotify to the number of unread emails in an inbox – then prepare a sauna or a favourite meal if an owner has had, as the AI understands it, a bad day at work. “This is going to become reality in yacht design in the near future,” Luca concludes.

Rodrigo Nicholson, Yacht Sales Advisor 

The first explorer yachts that an AI platform delivered to Rodrigo Nicholson were a Frankenstein’s monster. As the creator grew cleverer, Rodrigo inputted savvier search terms like ‘modern global explorer yacht’. The platform’s subsequent results showed a metallic silver leviathan, as if Zaha Hadid had sculpted a battleship for the 22nd century. “AI will design a spectacular looking yacht in 30 seconds,” Rodrigo explains. “But you have to ask it the right thing.”

Camper & Nicholsons has embraced technology since Rodrigo’s forbear Ben Nicholson joined the company nearly two centuries ago. Is AI a ground-breaking innovation on par with the diesel engine or GRP hull? Not quite. “Currently, I think that AI is a means of refining a design you already have in your head,” states Rodrigo. “Probably one that involves pioneering technologies like 3D liquid printing mental and hydrogen propulsion,” for which few real-life models exist.

Benjamin Bensahel, Europe Head of Sales & Brokerage

“An increasing goal of yachting is to explore remote places,” says Benjamin Bensahel. That’s why he typed in the terms ‘explorer yacht Antarctica with family and friends while working remotely’ – something that a lot of owners actually request. The resulting designs wowed colleagues. In one AI-generated image, what appears to be a steel-hulled expedition yacht is anchored alongside Antarctica with a spike-wheeled snow buggy parked on the glacier edge.

Benjamin remains sceptical about the actual impact on yacht manufacturing. Concepts can be quickly realised as a programme can compute millions of permutations in seconds, pushing construction regulations and class rules to their limit. But at present, a client would only trust a naval architect with decades of experience using steel and aluminium with their life’s dream. 

For Benjamin, the biggest game-changer for AI is in prospecting. In future, bots could source potential clients before a content-creator app crafts them a personalised email. The best opportunities would then be filtered, and financially qualified, for real-life contact by a sales or charter broker. “When used carefully, the technology could save time for key tasks with ongoing physical clients,” Benjamin concludes.

Giovanni Alessi Anghini, Chief Innovation & Technology Officer

For Giovanni Alessi Anghini, AI may be lightning quick, but it lacks the emotional empathy to understand a client's needs or to research a topic to its fullest extent. Which is why Giovanni remains sceptical about the capabilities of the technology.

“Covid accelerated our acceptance of virtual meetings with shipyards and clients,” Giovanni acknowledges. “But we could not exist without establishing a genuine rapport with a client. As Camper & Nicholsons has 240 years of heritage, clients understand that it’s not a new start-up offering a design service.” For clients, the brand carries a level of security and trust.

Giovanni points to the example of Bitcoin, which the company started accepting in 2022, allowing customers to place a currency trade at an exact price backed by any federal currency. In short, it’s not the technology that matters; it’s trusting the people with whom you spend your money that counts.