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Tech 101: The story of AI and hull development at Olesinski Design

Design Technology
Written by
Georgia Tindale

Best known to the industry as the studio responsible for designing nearly all Princess motor yachts to hit the water since the 1970s, the Isle-of-Wight based Olesinski Design could never be accused of resting on its laurels. With its proprietary Olesinski Hull and Hydro Software already in use for 25 years, the company is now integrating a type of artificial intelligence (in the form of ‘genetic algorithms’) into its software in order to speed up its hull development process – and even to help with its layouts and 3D modelling. To meet this aim, Olesinskihas boosted its 29-person team with a new Research and Development department purely focused on artificial intelligence (AI), headed up by Bill Edwards. Bill EdwardsPhoto: Olesinski DesignBut how does artificial intelligence work within superyacht design? The sceptics among us might question how AI could possibly design something as complex and personal to the client as a superyacht. Well, it all starts with the hull. By feeding the results of its computational fluid dynamics (CFD) hull simulations into artificial neural networks (hull simulations enable designers to see how hulls with different design parameters would perform under differing conditions) the company is able to produce something called a surrogate model. The result? This surrogate model is able to predict how a vast range of hulls would perform, without the company ever needing to run further simulations. As Edwards explains, this is a major benefit as simulations are both time-consuming and expensive: “This tool allows us to get the maximum value out of the minimum number of simulations, allowing us to keep these timeframes down and saving the customer money along the way.”

Example of hull with automatically generated representation of the surface thicknessPhoto: Olesinski Design

Delving in further, Olesinski has found another use for AI: producing the layouts for its superyachts. The process is straightforward enough: input the parameters or constraints (a certain number of cabins, a certain number of heads, the positioning of the galley and crew accommodation and so on), into the software and it will deliver a huge number of layouts which fulfil these criteria very quickly, disregarding all unsuitable layouts far more efficiently than a human designer could. “There’s a certain amount of legwork involved in laying out a particular scenario and seeing whether it works,” Edwards explains. “If you suddenly make the boat a foot longer or squeeze down the machinery space slightly, what is possible? Does it make something fundamentally possible that wasn’t before? Examining all of these options is very time-intensive and, by using AI, you haven’t got a human discovering dead ends for themselves, and you end up with a huge number of viable options in front of you.”Example of automatically generated arrangement optionPhoto: Olelinski DesignFor the studio’s Managing Director, Justin Olesinski, this technology also has benefits for those vitally-important client interactions. “We can produce both hulls and layouts that work very quickly and present these to our clients and say: ‘This is what we have come up with, is this the direction you would like to go, or would you like to try something different?’ And if the client wants something else, the AI can change it up at speed. You can say to the software, ‘Give me five options with a five-berth-layout or a six-berth layout’ and it will run off and come back with its ideas in seconds. As a result, you can have so many iterations of the design within the same timescale, freeing up time that can be spent detailing the boat up or exploring different styling options.”Justin OlesinskiPhoto: Olesinski Design
Skipping forward a few stages, when a yard such as Princess Yachts is looking to build one of the boats designed by Olesinski, they are presented with a 3D model of the yacht by the studio, which is then converted by their own software before the mould is milled out using a milling machine. But this process too could also receive the AI treatment. “What is new is that where we’ve previously physically modelled up the sole heights, the steps and everything else, we are now looking for the AI to produce the 3D models of the interiors for us. We have seen the initial results and these have been really good – and produced incredibly fast.”

So, if AI can be used for producing a vast number of suitable hull and layout options, and even for 3D modelling in this way, at what stage does a human designer actually need to step in? As both Edwards and Olesinski make clear, when it comes to decision-making about the finer details of a design, human intervention is indispensable. “It’s quicker for someone to say: ‘Let’s try these different colours on here, or these handles, or this type of headlining’ and it’s also a much more emotional side of things. Once you’ve established the big blocks from the pre-concept and concept stage, it is best to do these smaller iterations by hand.” Human designers are also necessary in order to manage all the different inputs which go into the development of any superyacht in the later design stages. As Justin explains: “At this point, you will have ideas from the customer, the yard, a number of interior designers, engineers, the sales team will be talking... Everyone gets involved in these conversations. It’s quite difficult to have a round-table discussion with a computer.” Rendering CFD SimulationPhoto: Olesinski DesignIndeed, the AI which is being used by Olesinski can be described as something of the ultimate enabler, rapidly and efficiently presenting a vast number of options for both hulls and layouts. When it comes to deciding which of those go on to be built – that’s up to the human designers. Edwards elucidates further: “Some people get concerned when they hear about AI being used in these sorts of fields, especially with all these discussions in the media about artificial general intelligence [defined as the hypothetical intelligence of a machine with the capacity to understand or learn any human intellectual task]. But we're not talking about artificial general intelligence, or conscious machines, or anything approaching that. We're talking about systems which are designed to do a particular task to help us make a certain level of decision about what might be good and what might be poor for our designs.” Example of automatically generated 3D tray modelPhoto: Olesinski DesignFor a studio such as Olesinski which prides itself on its staff retention (“We’ve been going since 1971, and we rarely lose anyone from the team because we’ve developed a really good working environment”, the Managing Director explains), the use of artificial intelligence aims to enhance the experience of its employees. “With this technology, we are still able to keep the human aspect of superyacht design: the ability to create different shapes, different aesthetics on boats and generate new ideas – that’s what we’re really good at."

"The AI can take care of all the mundane work which can take up a long time, making the whole experience much more enjoyable for our designers.” And, although it can be easy to slip into the overtly techy when discussing this subject, it is clear that, when it comes to superyacht design, the human element will always be at the fore. 

This article was first featured in The SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.

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