Moran David, the new Chief Commercial Officer for Boston-based Sea Machines, has a résumé that has little to do with the sea. But that didn’t stop the developer of autonomous command and control systems for commercial vessels from recruiting David away from Mobileye, which develops autonomous automotive technology.
If anything, David’s insights as a potential platform crosser are part of what made Sea Machines want him.
“Moran’s unique experience across disruptive technologies and proven record of driving growth at Mobileye is expected to significantly benefit Sea Machines,” said Sea Machines CEO Michael G. Johnson.
Disruption. It’s a challenge that all autonomous vehicle platforms have in common. And that’s what drew David into the autonomy realm in the first place – after an early career of diverse entrepreneurship that included founding a sushi restaurant, leading a bath and body products company, and partnering with a tourism company in Chile.
David joined Mobileye in 2015 and had served as general manager for North America since 2017.
“I have had a definitely unique path,” said David, adding that he enjoyed and learned from his early ventures but found himself wanting to be a part of a field with more big-picture, high-impact ambitions. And the field of autonomous-vehicle technologies stood out to him as a world changer.
“I want to be part of a company that is completely, 100 percent on board with a mission,” he explained.
“I want to know that I create value – and not just for the customer, but actually for humanity and doing good for the world. I definitely found that at Mobileye, which is a great company that literally saves lives. The same is true with Sea Machines. We are paving how the world is going to look in our domain. That is fascinating. Just to have the privilege to be part of it in some capacity, I think it’s a privilege.”
The same, but different
Joy in the privilege doesn’t diminish David’s awareness of the difficulties ahead. He emphasized that, in both the automotive and maritime spaces, the task of educating prospective customers is key – and tougher than it typically is when you’re selling widely understood products.
“A – many don’t know this technology exists,” David explained. “B – they’re not sure how exactly it’s going to solve their problems. And C – even if they are convinced, you are not currently a line item on their planned budget. Right? So market penetration is much harder, and this is what is very similar to Mobileye.”
There are also differences to be tackled.
Life at Sea Machines and in the maritime world, in general, is introducing David to new products, teams and colleagues, an ocean of new acronyms, and an industry that he described as being perhaps two decades behind the automotive realm in terms of adopting autonomous technologies.
“The maritime space, in general – this is something I’m learning very fast – is very traditional, conservative, and a bit slower to adopt new technologies,” David said. “In fact, it’s not uncommon to come across 20th–century technologies still active on boats and in operating procedures. And whenever there are new technologies being introduced, they are more often incremental changes.”
The moment of decision
As the recruitment process began, David said, he had questions about the commercial viability and value proposition of Sea Machines’ products. The company provided answers with a live virtual demonstration of its flagship offering, the SM300.
The SM300 is a “vessel intelligence system” that enables mariners to control a craft remotely – whether that be from a location aboard but not on the bridge or a location on shore. The system can be programmed to execute missions often considered tedious and tough, such as surveys or cleanup operations, while incorporating collision avoidance and other advanced features that enhance safety, boost productivity and improve results.
“I was wowed,” David said. “Suddenly I understood how far Sea Machines was going – way beyond. Sea Machines is bringing a leap – revolutionizing thought about how captains and crews and boats operate. I was like, ‘OK. I see the use case, I see the need, I see a great product, I see it works.’ And I definitely decided, ‘This is something I want to get involved with.’”
The challenge of lower visibility
To wow the public, David will need to get its attention. That, he acknowledged, will be harder in the maritime space as it was with autonomous automobiles.
“There is much more public pressure, if you will, and visibility to what happens with the automotive industry,” he said.
David attributed that to the fact that almost everyone drives an automobile or is at least familiar with the technologies and hazards of driving, while relatively few people travel by boat, and relatively few headlines focus on problems that can arise on the ocean.
“While we are all beneficiaries of a very well-tuned maritime space that ships our goods from all over the world … it’s not really on our mind,” David said.
“But there is literally some sort of collision at sea every day. We are not exposed to that as much as we are exposed to car accidents. But they are happening, and they are very costly – and sometimes they cost human lives. That should not be a given.”
Selling a revolution
To succeed in his new role, David will need to change awareness of autonomous maritime technologies, as well as expectations regarding safety and efficiency at sea, and to generate enough of a sense of urgency to justify immediate expenditures outside current norms.
“People we are meeting, they always think that we are talking about concepts that are going to be available in ‘X’ years of time – which is completely untrue.” David said.
“We are commercially deployed and available all over the world. We are, with many customers, beyond piloting and testing. … And we need the market to know that Sea Machines – our products – are currently available. They are proved and working.”