Chris Loizou: Orolia
According to Chris Loizou of Orolia, the France-headquartered parent of the McMurdo brand, the central issue is no longer a lack of trust in technology: times have changed so much that the problem is often quite the reverse.
He explained that 22 years ago he bounced into his very first sales meeting for a large marine technology supplier “equipped with brochures, sales material and enthusiasm” to sell the latest navigation aids to a gathering of established captains. However, the group turned out to be less interested in a sales pitch than a third-degree interrogation: “They began quizzing me straightaway,” he explained. Unnerved he went back to do some more homework, and it dawned on him that far from being a challenging audience, “their caution was perfectly justifiable”.
These days he’s rather relieved to meet this kind of hard-boiled customer: “While the new technology is fantastic – it still has its limitations. And the millennial generation hasn’t got the innate reservation of the older one when it comes to believing everything on the screen,” he said. “A number of incidents have happened because crew over-rely on the GPS or the electronic charts... sometimes they seem to think there’s no point in checking the radar or looking out of the window.”
At the same time he’s aware it’s not easy to keep a critical eye on incoming information: “We’ve all done it, relied on our SatNav and ended up in the wrong street... Even on workboats there’s a move to go paperless,” he explained. Unfortunately, “implementing high-tech solutions on smaller vessels with inherent limitations on wheelhouse space and resources” can result in even more reliance on taking vessel position data at face-value “even though it might not be 100% reliable”.
Neither is it always an innocent glitch. A number of global navigational signal spoofing and jamming incidents have been recorded over the last few years. “Keep in mind that a vessel engaged in nefarious activities, for example drug or human trafficking, will welcome an indicated apparent AIS position of 3nm versus their real position and out of coastal radar range,” he explained, a concern for port authorities, harbour patrols and international authorities.
Certainly it’s apparent Mr Loizou’s rise from junior salesman to COO in the same company has been matched by a growing sense of “mission” about raising awareness. Last year’s move to Orolia (known for its McMurdo brand) allows him to address his concerns from a different angle: Orolia has, amongst its offerings, a resilient Position Navigation and Timing (PNT) system that can flag up an untrustworthy positioning signal. As he pointed out: “It’s very useful to have technology that highlights the limitations of technology.”
More, he’s gratified to have a hand in developments that directly save lives: recent PNT advances have reduced the time it takes to get a fix on a distress beacon from two hours to around a tenth of this time “in a situation where minutes can mean life or death”. Most recently it helped locate a couple otherwise lost to the treacherous seas off Australia. “It makes us all, the whole team, incredibly proud,” said Mr Loizou.
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