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Insight: Lateral on future-proofing superyacht projects

Design Business
Written by
Georgia Tindale

Following their recent unveiling at the Monaco Yacht Show of two environmentally-friendly and innovative superyacht projects, the 112-metre hydrogen-powered Aqua developed with Sinot Yacht Design & Architecture and their 68-metre battery-powered technical platform Inception alongside the introduction of their new technology framework, Lateral Futurology, British engineering company Lateral Naval Architects have positioned themselves on the forefront of the movement towards authentic sustainability in the industry. Aqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignTo find out more, SuperYacht Times discovers how the dynamic firm is aligning itself to push both the boundaries of naval architecture and the industry as a whole through the development of their latest system: the Technology Readiness Level (TRL).Lateral Naval ArchitectsWith great attention devoted to sustainability during this year’s show season, as well as numerous initiatives being introduced to help boost the eco-credentials of superyacht projects as a whole, it is clear that the industry is in a period of change which aims to positively impact our entire planet. For Lateral, there is also a disjunction in evidence between today’s thinking and the beliefs, values and ideas of the next generation of buyers - meaning that today’s thought-processes will quickly become outdated. Lateral Naval ArchitectsCultural shifts, regulations and rapid advancements in technology are bringing the promise of disruptive change both at the governmental level and at the level of the individual. The adoption of this new technology (whether it be the technology of materials, products, manufacturing methods and processes), within the superyacht industry is, according to Lateral, “at times painfully slow.’’ Aqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignAs the development of a superyacht is primarily a design-focused exercise, technology and engineering is often thought about as an adjunct. Lateral believe that engineering and naval architecture need to stop following design as the leading conversation in new project development and more actively offer technical platforms that enable technology to become part of the leading conversation. This is made evident by Lateral’s recent 112-metre hydrogen-powered superyacht concept, Aqua, developed alongside Dutch company Sinot Yacht Design & Architecture, in which the futuristic design of the superyacht was matched by a fully-operational liquid hydrogen and fuel cell technology power system developed by Lateral over the course of four months. Aqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignAqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignIt is often the case that the technology behind secondary systems such as AV, IT, HVAC and other ancillary services develops at a more rapid pace than the technology underpinning the fundamental technologies of materials, propulsion and energy systems. As Lateral explains, “The technology that underpins the skeleton of many yachts tends to follow a well-trodden path, and we would suggest that engineering and naval architecture has a greater part to play here in pro-actively offering the design community a greater spectrum of meaningful innovation and the easier incorporation of future technology.”Lateral Naval Architects Marketing Photo: Lateral Naval ArchitectsIncorporating new technologies into the fundamental architecture of large superyacht projects can be achieved in a variety of different ways, but however it is approached, the practicalities of building and warranting the final outcome - as well as the experience of the end-user owner - must be taken into account. The superyacht must be reliable and robust and fit the owner’s original vision for their vessel.Aqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignAqua super yacht concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignPhoto: Sinot Yacht Architecture & DesignIn addition, adopting new technology comes with associated risks, with shipyards required to underwrite that risk and still remain commercially competitive. Furthermore, as Lateral explains, in a somewhat counterintuitive development, the rapid pace of development and the ever-increasing spectrum of technology, propulsion and energy architecture provides superyacht owners, builders and designers a paradox of choice. This leads to the tendency to revert to the simplest and most familiar solution with the lowest perceived risk which can result in a narrowing of engineering innovation in the industry. Lateral Naval ArchitectsLateral has developed a structured system based on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) approach, which measures the innovation, technology maturity and commercial risk of a yacht product or new technology. Within this system, the TRL scale runs from TRL 0 (a Blue Sky Idea, or an anecdotal concept with no analytical proof of feasibility) right through to TRL 6, (something made obsolete by increased regulation or alternative technology). 

A curve also measures the diffusion of innovation (as depicted in the graphic) and clearly shows that in order to truly innovate, a high appetite for risk is required. As Lateral explains, “With a relatively low volume of output and long project cycles, our industry simply does not have the throughput to draw on future technology at a pace which ensures widespread rapid adoption of new and less proven technologies.”Inception yacht design concept by Isaac Burrough Design and Lateral Naval ArchitectsPhoto: Lateral Naval ArchitectsThis slow pace means that the technical and financial risks associated with new technology are not quickly mitigated and the cycle is compounded. It takes innovators and early adopters to carry these risks and facilitate the widespread takeup of new technology. With “relatively few innovators” prepared to do this within the industry, Lateral is driving an approach where a compelling technical narrative and carefully considered risk assessment leads to a more attractive proposition for future owners to become innovators. Project Inception yacht concept profileThrough this Lateral is championing engineering and naval architecture becoming a leading part of the conversation in new superyacht project development. With engineering and naval architecture working alongside superyacht design, the superyacht industry can tackle the global challenges head-on and be prioritised by the next generation of superyacht owners, and deliver truly meaningful innovation along the way. Project Inception yacht concept profilePhoto: Isaac BurroughTo find out more about Lateral, their new projects and the work of Lateral Futurology, contact the company using the details below. Further information can also be found in Lateral’s newsletter Whitepaper on their website. 

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