Reo Baird and Sampriti Bhattacharyya
Reo Baird and Sampriti Bhattacharyya
The digital superyacht revolution
When an Indian aerospace engineer and a Canadian roboticist joined forces, they showed not only what can be done with tech in yachting, but also how yachting offers opportunities for a diverse range of next-gen thinkers.
If you thought that the world of superyachting was the preserve of the traditional, the conservative and the established, it’s time to think again. The rise of a new generation of yacht owners whose ideologies, ambitions and adventurous spirit is leading to a rethink of what a yacht is and how luxury should be measured is being mirrored by a new generation of designers, engineers and thought-leaders are pushing yachting into exciting new areas. This is yachting where key influences are sustainability and digital technology, and where key outcomes are experiential and futuristic.
The net result of this drive forward is evident both in the ideas that are becoming reality, and the extraordinarily diverse backgrounds of young engineers who are entering the yachting sphere. Take Sampriti Bhattacharyya, for example. A graduate of the West Bengal University of Technology, Ohio State, and MIT – where she completed a PhD in mechanical engineering – Bhattacharyya is an aerospace engineer from India with a mission.
Enter the Navier 27 boat which was conceived, designed and developed by the 30-something Bhattacharyya together with Canadian born roboticist Reo Baird. The Navier 27 presents an interesting proposition as a superyacht tender, but the potential is for far more applications. The design brings together an intelligent software navigation system and hydrofoiling technology led by Paul Bieker of the America’s Cup. Foils were first used in the America’s Cup in 2013 delivering unprecedented speeds, and in the past decade they’ve been applied to sailing and power boats for racing and recreational cruising, favoured for their vastly superior ride quality that eliminates sea-sickness. Indeed, in 2021 Baltic Yachts delivered the 43-metre Canova, the world’s first foil-assisted sailing superyacht.
At just eight metres in length, the Navier aims to become the longest-range, high speed electric vessel on the market achieving a 75-nautical-mile range at 20 knots by eliminating hydrodynamic drag. “We are rethinking boat design as we know it,” says Bhattacharyya. “Hydrofoils not only allow electric boats to attain a practical range at high speeds, but they drastically reduce the operational cost of a vessel when compared to traditional boats with combustion engines.”
It’s certainly tapped into the zeitgeist. The first 15 hulls of the Navier 27 sold out in six weeks in 2021, snapped up by young, tech savvy individuals who drive Teslas, have solar panels installed on the rooves of their homes and care about the environment. Construction on the first hull is currently underway at the Lyman-Morse shipyard in Maine, funded by US$7.2 million raised in seed capital.
It speaks to the growing opportunities yachting presents to forward-thinking net-gen engineers, not least because of the willingness of owners themselves to invest in next-gen technologies. While Baird is a lifelong boater who has owned more than 35 watercraft, neither he nor Bhattacharyya are yacht designers, but they believe software lives at the heart of next generation maritime.
Navier is not the duo’s first foray into maritime, nor is it their first start-up. Baird’s previous ventures lie in sub-sea robotic cameras and advanced cinematography equipment, while Bhattacharyya founded Hydroswarm – autonomous drones that use propulsion to live under the water – in 2015 while studying for her PhD. Originally developed for use in nuclear-reactor inspection, the drones gained wider recognition for their potential in the oil and gas and defence industries, as well as “swarm” robots that could potentially map the seabed more efficiently than current technology.
Hydroswarm lost momentum in 2019, but Bhattacharyya remained invested in the development of Hydrodynamic Ground Effect to produce next generation marine technology. And that’s what the Navier 27 offers. Built using advanced composites, the autonomous hydrofoiling electric craft cuts running costs by 90 percent. “In San Francisco, most of my friends don’t know much about boating,” says Bhattacharyya, “but they’ve tapped into a growing desire to spend more time outdoors. That’s who we designed the Navier for; people who want to find new adventure on water in a sustainable way.”
It’s estimated US$15 trillion of ultra-high-net wealth will be transferred from one generation to the next within a decade. Farouk Nefzi, chief marketing officer at Feadship, refers to this period as a “generational handover”. The digital natives are on the rise, and Feadship responded in 2021 with Pure, an innovative concept that sees the conventional captain’s bridge moved from its traditional forward location to a windowless digital ‘command centre’ in the keel of the yacht.
It might sound crazy, but software in yachting is no gimmick. Feadship’s opinion-dividing design speaks to a peer group of gamers and younger buyers who have grown up with 24/7 connectivity as their normal. Boats like the Princess V50 now have integrated Naim Audio technology and joystick controls that make manoeuvring for the less experienced more intuitive. New tech floats millennials’ boat and speaks to the power of digital, but only when it factors in sustainability.
Sampriti Bhattacharyya and Reo Baird
Sampriti Bhattacharyya and Reo Baird
In the short term, the Navier hits the sweet spot for young, recreational novice boaters who are drawn to an electric boat with the range to explore at weekends, or equally for superyacht owners who want a more sustainable solution for their tender or chase boat. But Bhattacharyya’s bigger vision is to develop a high-speed water taxi for congested, coastal cities, to elevate the Navier from a luxury pleasure craft to a boat that changes the way we commute. “If you can build a boat that can operate at the cost, speed and convenience of a land-born vessel, you open up a new mode of water-born transportation,” she says.
Crucial to the Navier’s success so far is the diverse mix of talent. “The reason we have been able to move so fast is down to our team’s extensive knowledge in ocean robotics, aerospace flight controls and autonomous systems,” says Bhattacharyya. “Our lead flight controller is a fellow aerospace engineer and MIT grad, and yet you don’t traditionally see that level of experience in the boating industry. It takes a very different skill set to build a boat like the Navier 27.”
What’s clear to see is a new generation of talent has come of age. By 2026, millennials are expected to control 60 per cent of the luxury market, and with that comes a new wave of yacht owners and designers who are not just driving innovation in the yachting sector but radically transforming it. It means yachting is opening its arms not only to new solutions, but also to new talent – and in particular, talent that doesn’t necessarily come from the traditional backgrounds in terms of experience or even boating knowledge. As Bhattacharyya and Baird prove, if you think change is coming, you’re late to the yacht party. The needs and ideologies of younger buyers are already influencing yacht design, with sustainability and digital technology leading the charge.