In the early days of yachting it was intrusion from the paparazzi, and then came pirates, terrorists and – more recently – drones. Privacy and physical asset protection for superyachts has become an area of critical concern for owners, but most conventional systems rely on standard tools such as radar, cameras or sonar to try to pick out potential threats. There is, of course, a major drawback with these methods – standard equipment can’t distinguish the potential threat levels of the targets they acquire.

It is in this area that companies such as MARSS are making great strides. The NiDAR system, developed by MARSS, takes information from a variety of equipment and sensors, and applies its own algorithms to determine potential threat levels. As it turns out, the results are somewhat to the envy of the world’s military. It’s ironic, given the genesis of the NiDAR project.

“The inspiration for our yacht systems actually came from a European Union-funded project that we were leading, together with NATO and commercial shipping,” explains MARSS founder and CEO Johannes Pinl. “It was originally touted for commercial shipping to protect critical assets – cruise ships, oil platforms and ports, for example – against terrorist attacks following 9/11.”

NiDAR takes inputs from third-party equipment and sensors such as radar, cameras and sonar, adds in some MARSS-developed sensors and hardware, and then processes the information using intelligent algorithms specially developed by the MARSS team of software engineers. It is this intelligence that is key to the NiDAR system. “Common sensors like radar and cameras are rather useless for security unless you have an operator sitting in front of them 24/7,” says Pinl. “This obviously doesn’t happen on a yacht – for a yacht it needs to be fully automatic and it needs to be intelligent, and that’s where we come in. The system we developed with NATO is intelligent and is based on moving patterns, video analytics and other elements to identify whether a situation is a potential security threat or not, and then to alert the operator only when needed and avoid false alarms.” That latter point is also important, says Pinl, because too many false alarms means crew will reach for the off switch – not ideal when it comes to security monitoring.

Of course, there are likely elements of the algorithms and custom hardware that remain the preserve of the military domain, but the net result, emphasises Pinl, is the same on yachts as it is in more sensitive environments. “I can even tell you,” he smiles, “that some of the yachts out there are better protected than Navy vessels – and we know that for sure, because we do Navy vessels as well. The reason is that the yachting world is adapting to new technology far quicker than the military world – a newly launched frigate will have tech that was specified ten years ago, but a yacht owner will specify equipment developed tomorrow! Consumer tech has developed so quickly that the military often struggle to keep up.”

It’s certainly a reassuring thought, and while the threats against privacy and superyacht assets may be becoming more sophisticated, it is clear that systems such as NiDAR can offer considerable peace of mind to owners and superyacht crews.

MARSS will have a live NiDAR demo in the main reception area of the Global Superyacht Forum from 14-16 November. They are also hosting a ‘Privacy and Risk’ workshop on Tuesday 15 November at GSF from 1500-1600, where Pinl and Sue Barnham of Holman Fenwick Willan LLP will be speaking about the threat of drones to the privacy and security of owners, the options they have to detect and mitigate this threat, and the legal and technological challenges of this area of asset protection.