Exclusive Interview with David Tellett – Maritime Product Manager, FrontM


FrontM is a tech startup that has developed a very unique Collaboration and AI Software platform that has been designed specifically to work in isolated and extreme maritime environments. FrontM enables mobile-led interactions that are simpler, more useful, more immediate and more informative.

“For businesses that serve users in such remote spaces, we enable a channel to connect, collaborate and automate processes for more effective customer experiences and better outcomes,” says David Tellett, Maritime Product Manager, FrontM.

Sea News (SN) interviewed David Tellett (DT), about the way FrontM is distinguishing and positioning itself in an ever-changing and dynamic industry. The excerpts…

SN: Shipping sector is vast. How can FrontM be helpful in connecting customers and their teams?

DT: The shipping sector is indeed vast, both in terms of the scale of the workforce and the distances between them. One of the biggest problems is that satellite connectivity remains limited and expensive compared with what we’re used to on shore. FrontM offers a platform for shore/ship collaboration which is optimised for these connectivity limitations – we can even let crew members on the same ship message each other over wifi without touching the internet connection at all! We’re also interested in helping them work better with their data. We help workers at sea communicate better – whether it’s with shore teams, colleagues on board the same vessel or even IoT devices!

SN: A ship generates large quantity of data on a daily basis. How effectively can this data be used?

DT: In general, better use of data in the industry can mean anything from exciting opportunities to use data to improve voyage planning, with all the economic, environmental and safety benefits that entails to simply having a better handle on costs. Data can also be used to make better decisions for on-board systems and services: everything from improving customer service on cruise ships to diagnosing the causes of technology identifying issues with container/freezer temperature.

Some of this data needs to be reacted to in real time, other data is very useful but can be reviewed retrospectively, other data turns out to not be very useful; but all of it is expensive to exchange between ship and shore, even if there is available bandwidth to do it. For us, a large part of the challenge of using data generated by ships effectively is deciding which data to exchange between ship and shore when, and what data processing can be done on board.

SN: Artificial Intelligence will be guiding the shipping industry in the coming years. Please elaborate in what ways AI can be implemented in Shipping and Maritime.

DT: Artificial Intelligence can mean a wide range of different things in different contexts. One of the most radical uses of AI, for example, is in autonomous ships. Machine Learning techniques can be applied to much of the data generated by ships to derive new business insights, optimize voyages or highlight potential problems, and some of the industry’s most ambitious digital transformation projects focus on that.

For FrontM, AI is also about how users interact with the system as well as how the system can process data. Interaction with modern apps is increasingly like having a conversation, whether it’s talking to Siri or Alexa, typing a question into Google and actually getting an answer pop up or receiving a reply from a Twitter bot. Normally these services rely on sending data back and forth to the cloud, to access a Natural Language Processing engine sitting on a server on the other side of the world to interpret your question. When you’re a crew member with limited megabytes of crew internet, a technician trying to figure out why the VSAT connection isn’t working or a cruise passenger sharing a data connection with hundreds of other users, this connection to the cloud is something you don’t always have. FrontM brings these capabilities to offline and semi offline environments by developing chat AI on the Edge

SN: What is conversational AI App Eco-System?

DT: So far we’ve discussed the problems of communication at sea, the challenges of access to data at sea and the trend towards chatbot-style interactions with apps. So we built a collaboration software platform optimised for users at sea to help change all this.

The shipping sector is enormously diverse, and different areas face quite distinct business challenges. So when building our platform, we’ve also built in a software development kit so that partner companies can use this to build, maintain and expand applications of their own. The idea behind it being a ‘conversational AI’ ecosystem is that you’re not just restricted to creating dialog boxes or map displays or graphs, but you can introduce workflows structured around the concept of ‘conversations’ with data sources, alongside conversations with colleagues on the chat channel. We can also enable customers to do some really quite advanced things with NLP chatbots running on a ship’s server without touching the cloud.

SN: Tell us more about FrontM. How it started and what was behind it, and your vision in the near future?

DT: Our founders Kiran Venkatesh and Guillermo Acilu founded FrontM in 2016 after working as software consultants in the satellite communications industry for the likes of Inmarsat. They saw how modern businesses and consumers had become used to the benefits of interactive, always-on software stored in the cloud. Their vision was bringing this user experience to users at sea, and other similar environments that rely on satellite connectivity.

In the near future we’re partnering with shipping connectivity providers and software vendors to roll out versions of our collaboration software to their customers

SN: Share some details on FrontM connectivity partnerships.

DT: We have a number of global partners who use FrontM’s web and mobile apps to make lower cost calls to Inmarsat L-band terminals. This can improve shore-ship communication, and significantly reduce the operational costs associated with shore to ship calls for our partners customers – particularly important in markets where VSAT is still rare. Our partners will also be able to use the platform’s instant messaging and international calling capabilities.

Sea News Feature, March 17

Baibhav Mishra
Author: Baibhav Mishra