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Chapter 3

Newcastle upon Tyle, UK - Amsterdam, NL

The Argonauts

The drive from Speyside down to Newcastle upon Tyne – the next stage of our journey – takes almost six hours. Located in the north of England at the terminal point of the Roman Hadrian’s Wall, the city of Newcastle has retained the charm of its lively thousand-year history in many places. With typical northern elegance, Newcastle unites its roots with state-of-the-art architecture, like the 50-meter high tilting ”Millennium Bridge”, which has become the city’s new landmark. It is certainly worth spending more time in Newcastle – but this is not on our itinerary.

We return our car at the ferry port and board the ‘Argonaut Ferry’ – the flagship of ... let’s say, Fantasy Passage Ltd., an aspiring transportation start-up that wishes to compete with the incumbent DFDS Seaways on the Newcastle-Amsterdam route.

Fantasy Passage is having to take a new approach in order to be able to compete with its all-powerful rival. And the company is focusing on the “smart ferry” concept to do this. The newcomer has the advantage that the entire technical and logistical infrastructure could be established based on the principles of the smart product economy from the word go. The company first designed a smart, interoperable ticketing system (copied from Sydney Ferries) that makes boarding in Newcastle and Amsterdam – with or without a car – a very simple process that can be performed using a smart phone. The app also assists with any necessary formalities and with planning an onward journey as well as with the appropriate means of transport (an idea swiped from the Berlin start-up Waymate).

Fantasy Passage then introduced a visualization platform (inspired by New York Waterways and Hitachi Data Services) that is able to network and monitor all ships currently in use. Cameras and sensors installed on the ferries supply a constant stream of real-time information and live videos about deviations from the course, weather information for the rough North Sea, fuel losses and even reports on exceptional passenger behavior and other anomalies. The data are combined from public databases, the company’s own ticketing system and even with social media feeds. The data are aggregated and analyzed before being integrated into an interactive visual map, allowing the entire fleet to be accurately controlled and rapid and targeted interventions to be made in critical situations. A large number of scenarios, from crisis prevention to predictive maintenance for ships, were developed at the very beginning of the project to form the basis of the business model – and to make the new ferry line a highly efficient operating company.

So much for the compulsory part. However, the actual question that really concerned the CEO of Fantasy Passage (whose name we cannot divulge for understandable reasons) was a totally different one. Can a smart product form the core of a company’s brand, or at least a key element of its brand? It can. The solution was found, at Wind+Wing Technologies in California, which was founded in 2014 by Jay Gardner – a Bay Area veteran, old salt and experienced entrepreneur. Gardner’s ambitious plan calls for equipping ferries with smart wind sails that reduce diesel consumption by up to 40 percent. The impressive, high sails are a lightweight construction made from carbon fiber and are intended to capture the enormous power of the wind and ensure fast, quiet and clean propulsion for ferries – among the dirtiest of vessels that you can travel with today. The sail, which is powered by a solar cell and which is very easy to operate, is a smart product par excellence. It not only has GPS navigation but can also be equipped with microprocessors and a large number of sensors enabling it to align itself and adapt to wind conditions perfectly. At the same time, the sail records information on the status, fuel consumption and position of the ship.

Innumerable possibilities present themselves – in particular in connection with Fantasy Passage’s visualization platform. For instance, the smart sail also houses high-performance antennas that defy the difficult weather conditions and the limited network coverage in the North Sea. However, above all the sail gives the light, elegant ships of Fantasy Passage Ltd. one unmistakable element that the company’s CEO proudly calls a “brand shaper”.

Businessman and author Chris Anderson says, “You need to build companies in a different way in order to do things in a different way.” Fantasy Passage is just such a company. Smart products can also bring to the physical world the approach advanced by Anderson, which claims companies in the digital economy can achieve success not just with bestsellers but also with many niche products that would be unprofitable in the conventional economy, thereby making markets more colorful, innovative and interesting.

“Welkom in Amsterdam!” After a 16-hour North Sea crossing, we finally feel firm ground under our feet.