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Now Hold On Just A Damn minute!

The Future of Boatbuilding - page 5

By Capt. Bill Pike

Okay. So here’s what we’ve got so far—a speedily approaching future where boats are printed by robots, propelled by super-efficient hybrid powerplants, navigated and docked by GPS-fed computers with AHRS sensors, and equipped with thermal-imaging technologies that slavishly satisfy our every whim. But there’s one last aspect to this whole phantasmagoria we’ve yet to deal with—design! Will boats of the future be designed by Ai-inspired androids?

Michael Peters
Michael Peters

“Well,” says world-famous powerboat designer and Power & Motoryacht columnist Michael Peters, expelling a deep, bemused breath. “You’re right about the boats that’ll dock themselves—they exist now as a matter of fact. Three years ago DARPA asked my office to work up a proposal for a 150-knot, totally autonomous boat. No one onboard, including during dockings.”

Peters has a beef with hands-free, recreational boats, however. In his opinion, they need to have manual backup systems somewhere in case a glitch occurs, and human beings somewhere as well, with the training and expertise to operate the systems. It’s just common sense, he contends.

Peters has another, somewhat related beef as well—he fears that boats of the future (or most of them, anyway) will be designed on computer screens exclusively, with none of the hands-on, free-form, deeply-human, pen-on-paper sketching that precedes all the computer work in his own Sarasota-based design office as well as in many other studios around the world today.

“In a sense, totally computerized boats are like totally computerized designs—each is limited by the machine,” he states. “I’ll tell you—I have no trouble walking a boat show today and spotting a design that’s been done entirely by computer because it’s relatively simple, predictable, with easily recognizable computer-generated shapes. And there’s more and more of this sort of thing, of course. In fact, in my opinion, the design aesthetic we have now is not, for the most part, driven by what’s beautiful but by what you get if you take the easy way out and let the computer create your shapes for you.”

Academia is abetting this dreary process, according to Peters. Although he’s absolutely convinced that the initial stages of design are the most creative stages, and that the work accomplished therein is best done by hand, he says that most schools teaching yacht design today are concentrating on computer-driven processes to the exclusion of hands-on sketching, an emphasis that totally threatens the continuance of pen-to-paper artistry.

The implications of this are straightforward. If Peters is right, boating’s future could get pretty dang weird. Wanna buy a boat totally designed and built by Ai-inspired androids? With the ability to operate itself? While you loll in sybaritic sumptuousness somewhere onboard? Or maybe elsewhere? Hey, just wait a few years.

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