I've been thinking about this for awhile now, yet it is hard to fully embrace such a concept so early in the morning. I brought fresh coffee to Laurene, as usual, and placed it on the side stand next to the bed. As I got up at 0615, Annie had long ago taken over my spot on the bed, this faux golden always ready to take my space. I say faux because, while Annie was rescued from a kill shelter by a golden retriever rescue (on the assumption she had some golden in her, which saved her life). But out of curiosity we did her DNA, and she is not even a pinch of golden retriever, instead: Sheltie, Lab, and Norwegian Elkhound. The result is what people assume is a smaller version of a golden retriever, until, that is, you toss her something to fetch. You will not even get a sideways glance.
As I give Annie a scratch on the head, I realize I'm still at odds with the future that has been on my mind. It can't be stopped, I know, nor is it prudent to try. Life marches on and what we take for granted is destined to change no matter what our thoughts. My parents hated the music of the Beach Boys, so I guess it's just normal.
In boating at the higher levels of new boat sales these days, I reckon it starts at the top of the financial pyramid, in the world of the one-percenters. The people who have money and power and who create the next buying trend, at least for big ticket items like expensive cruising boats. If these well-heeled folks demanded the return of the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, it would arrive way sooner than if demanded by the likes of the Birkenstock crowd.
And so it is with our boats. Today's builders respond to those who can step up and purchase the latest, the biggest, the new definition of best. Gone are entry level world cruisers. Today it is all about the expanding lines of ever larger yachts which dwarf regular docks. These boats don't stick out as much in crowded Ft Lauderdale but they sure do on the Kenai Peninsula. And it is a bit humbling that such large cruising yachts have evolved where they are safely run by a couple, not the crews of those mega ships of leisure.
This trend of bigger boats and improved capability is often validated by my boat broker friends, outfitters, and yacht systems technicians who make a living keeping these small ships running.
Some call it the "Lexus Mentality" and I suppose that moniker fits well enough. The expectation of these buyers is that everything works, period. There is no underlying sympathy that many onboard systems are complicated or overwhelming. No, these folks don't want to deal with complicated, nor are they accepting overwhelming. They want it simple, they want it carefree, and they want it to work. The days of tinkering and puttering and tweaking with essential but complex fuel system plumbing are over. These people want to travel, not entertain themselves with greasy wrenches. For the kind of money these boats command, owners rightly expect things to work as seamlessly as their Lexus, or Tesla, or Bentley. This segment of the Baby Boomer generation wants a turn key experience, not the responsibility of load balancing electrical demands as we've accepted in the past. Nope, if the batteries need charging, get the genset online right now and automatically. Hell, even my 10-year-old Prius does that, and it didn't cost what this boat does!
Comfortable is okay, automation is better, and whatever makes it easier to use, more reliable, and less dependent on the owner is a good thing.
We want our domestic appliances because we are used to their carefree operation, so bring on those Sub-Zero, Thermador, and other high-end refrigerators, self-cleaning stoves, washer dryers, dishwashers, and compactors. We've got the room and if we need more power, well, by God, we'll order more power!
And that is just the start of things and nowhere near the tipping point of serious change. No, that singular point in history is much bigger and daunting than anything we might have imagined a generation ago. And you would have to have had blinders on not to notice this on some level.
There was a fascinating expo in Sweden not too long ago that discussed how disruptive technology causes world-altering change to occur, and which heralds a major shift in how we continue to live on this planet. These technologies are considered disruptive because they rock our world through advances that change the game completely. Which is why the scientists and futurists in Oslo felt we will all be driving electric vehicles by 2030, because of the disruptive effects and convergence of battery storage technology, electronic sensor and control technology, and the eventual acceptance that burning fossil fuels is no longer an option for our planet.
How do you think that will fair in the boating world? Hmm, how can we avoid such changes if they indeed alter our world's basic forms of transportation (even the word "transportation" has a limited shelf life at this point.)
Auto routing navigation software, automatic energy monitoring and control systems, propulsion alternatives that continue to tip toe onto the scene to tease us with what's to come. The thought that you would one day navigate without paper charts was enough of a stretch for many, but consider the obvious next step. The boat heading out of the channel you are now entering just uploaded the latest depth and contour detail, and which is now showing up on the data on your navigation's chart module. You might as well wave him a nod as he passes by, "Thanks for the updates, Skipper!"
That would have been pure science fiction not too long ago, but not any more.
It took the industry well over a decade to adopt NEMA 2000, and such an acceptance rate today is totally, completely unacceptable. We will demand that such protocol agreements be embraced quickly and fully. NEMA 2000 was about connectivity. Well, we are way beyond that now. How about controllability? The universally-accepted Internet of Things (IOT) will eclipse our human desire to stay connected with each other, because untold millions of machines and devices will work seamlessly together to accomplish a collective mission statement. That might include auto routing and safe passage from one destination to another, with constant input from other vessels, chart data, weather, and other navigational overlays that constantly monitor and update tracking and other relevant detail. The onboard crew will simply enjoy the trip, as they should. Sound like science fiction? Go for a ride in a Tesla.
And the boat's internal processes will no doubt operate differently from what we are used to. Instead on relying on a human operator to perform a task, check fluid levels, or routinely tighten fittings or fasteners, the very nature of future systems will self conduct tests and monitor resistances instantly and continually. Processing this data with internal AI computer power, the human factor will be alerted to scheduled maintenance or early warning alerts to developing issues to be prevented through early detection. And is that really hard to imagine? Of course not.
Have you heard about John Deere's new Run On™ Maintenance System? (No, it does not exist yet except in my mind.) It uses a clever array of sensors to maintain a punch list of maintenance issues based on vibration analysis, corrosion resistance, and other factors that hint at early signs of potentially impacting events, each identified and rated through internal AI processing to create a list of activity according to severity and priority. Code yellow and orange alerts might signal tightening fasteners or alerting the next available Run On™ technician to visit your vessel at the next port.
Such integration and analysis is not beyond anything we already have in other aspects of our lives, so why shouldn't this be on our horizon? Can't think of a reason why, except our reluctance to embrace the future and all it offers.
Reluctant that I am, it is kind of exciting. But as long as Annie keeps me grounded on what is real and important, I will refrain from searching for crew uniforms that scream Star Trek and the U.S.S. Enterprise. Much of the sci-fi past is best left alone, and I am quite certain that the Star Fleet color-coordinated leisure suit isn't coming back any time soon, no matter what kind of 3-D textile printer they come up with next.
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BTW, for those curious about the huge power cat shown on the opening shot: