Where will it end? Where should it end?

01 Oct 2013
Oasis of the Seas

Sperry Marine has built some of the most complex commercial integrated bridge systems afloat such as the system on the Oasis of the Seas

Wendy Laursen looks at how a European programme and various indepenent initiatives aim to apply air transport technology to ships in order to take control ashore rather than rely entirely on ship crews, thus reducing the risk of human error and, hopefully, enhancing safety.

Some researchers envisage a future where automatic ships, programmed not to have collisions, sail the seas. There could be adaptive bridge systems that learn as they go and double-guess the intentions of those on watch. These systems could be operated, if required, by voice and hand signal rather than keyboard and touch screen.

Seafarers have a different sense of autonomy from that of aeroplane pilots. A fully automated bridge may not seem attractive, but researchers are definitely exploring the possibilities and drawing comparisons between the highly procedure-based and constrained cockpit of aeroplanes with what could be done at sea. The totally unmanned ship, as forecast by Dag Pike in The Motorship, June 2013, may be many years in the future, but current research is heading in that direction.

The EU funded Model-Based Cooperative and Adaptive Ship-based Context Aware Design (CASCADe) project is now underway. It is not directly addressing situations where outright system failure of bridge equipment leads to an incident. It aims to deal with the majority of safety related incidents, which are caused by human error. “This may be error as a result of not dealing well with equipment failure but it’s often error that is initiated by what the human does, or does not do, as a result of what context they are in,” says project spokesman Dr Gary Randall a senior cognitive research scientist at BMT Group and one of several researchers on the project that take reference from the aviation industry. “We want to make the bridge more sensitive to its configuration and the context of the vessel so that it is more difficult for the human to get into a chain of events in which they lose situation awareness and eventually have an incident. So it’s about consistency and appropriateness of information presentation, removing excess redundancy, the usability of displays, detection of ‘bad’ or inappropriate bridge settings, supporting communication between the bridge team members etc.”

Project participants include OFFIS - Institute for Information Technology from Germany, the British Maritime Technology Group, Raytheon Anschuetz, Mastermind Shipmanagement, the University of Cardiff, Marimatech, Symbio Concepts & Products, Nautilus International, NSB Niederelbe Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Co KG and the University of Tasmania.

Dr Randall cites a futuristic vision prepared by Raytheon Anschuetz where the bridge is operated by voice and movement, in a similar way to a Nintendo Wii game console, but acknowledges that adaptive, learning bridges in the sense of artificial intelligence are not within the project scope. Instead, he’d like bridges to supply the right information at the right time implying some level of context awareness. If the vessel is berthing then there is a different set of most-pertinent information from that when the ship is sailing in open sea. The partners have initially developed a prototype for a handover tool that automatically gathers the most pertinent information including traffic and weather to facilitate communication during change of watch.

Citing an example of a bridge where vessel heading was shown in seven separate and differently represented ways, Dr Randall explain that he sees the need for consistency and reduced redundancy, but standardisation is not necessarily popular amongst equipment manufacturers. “We are supportive of common interfaces and functionality but want to see enough flexibility to innovate,” says Scott McCrory, business director for Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine.

Sperry Marine has built some of the most complex commercial integrated bridge systems afloat such as the system on the Oasis of the Seas. This system has 15 workstations on the bridge. Maintaining a high degree of situational awareness is paramount to ensuring safe navigation, says Mr McCrory, and the company aims to ensure its VisionMaster software products and bridge design allow for the timely and efficient processing of navigational and environmental data.

“Sperry Marine has always been actively working within the marine international regulatory community to provide the manufacturer perspective,” says McCrory. “As a result, we believe our VisionMaster product line and bridge designs reflect current industry thinking and are very much in keeping with the CASCADe philosophy. We have worked very closely with shipowners in bridge design since we installed our first integrated bridge system over 25 years ago. We have provided both equipment and bridge team training and have developed entire bridge simulators for both shipowners and training schools. We have also worked closely with a number of shipowners on drafting bridge procedures that take full advantage of all the features of our system. We are very supportive of team training and common bridge procedures and practices.”

SAM Electronics is not involved in the CASCADe project, but based on other EU funded projects such as SAFEDOR, the company’s NACOS Platinum integrated bridge system is already addressing the conflict between bridge design, procedures and the end user with a completely new design for the user interface, says Karl-Christian Ehrke, product manager at L-3 SAM Electronics. “Issues like information redundancy and inconsistency and varying interfaces have been taken into account and improved upon. A typical example is the navigation data sidebar, which has been designed together with Chalmers University and is consistently used for all applications so that the end user will find all necessary data at the same place and in the same arrangement at all times.”

The CASCADe concept of an adaptive user interface that will recognise, prevent and recover from human errors has not been implemented yet because it requires a redundant internal model of all ship systems, says Mr Ehrke. “The solution is a question of precise data collection and modelling. We look forward to seeing the new results and would assume that these lessons learned will be applied by the leading manufacturers as they release their next generation of integrated bridge systems.”

Captain Timothy Crowch, president of Advanced System Safety Management in Switzerland and formerly from the aviation industry, acknowledges the increased automation and complexity of bridge systems but is a proponent of standardisation. “It is not the systems that are going to fail in the future,” he says. “No, quite the contrary, they will become increasingly reliable with increasing degrees of built-in redundancy. It will be the human operator who will fail as the architecture will become excessively complex, the training or familiarisation offered to the crew member will remain rudimentary at best and there will be too many manufacturers present in the market, all creating their own standards and claiming them to be the best.”

The aviation world went through this era in the 1980s, "but we, at least, had a history of traditional instrument layout and positioning that had already been accepted by all manufacturers," he says. “In the end, the only person who will understand how the bridge works will be the engineering architect who designed it.”

Training therefore is paramount even though it is currently anathema in the marine industry, he says. “My argument is that if people wish to cut their training budgets, they are consciously removing one of their crucial defences within their safety management systems. This will have to be replaced by other defences and one of these is standarisation. The industry can no longer afford the luxury of every vessel being a prototype. Please also remember, training for new equipment can be the easy part of the process, forgetting the old is more difficult especially when the stresses rise.

“Should you wish to study a leading exponent of this philosophy, look at Airbus Industrie. The average cost of training a pilot on a new aircraft is around $150,000. Two pilots per crew makes $300,000. The training has traditionally lasted 10-12 weeks. By standardising their flight decks, it is possible to transition a pilot from an A320 to an A330/340 now in two to three weeks and then they are licensed to fly all three types – unique in the aviation world. Consider the cost savings and the synergies gained. If standardisation didn’t pay, I doubt Airbus would have invested billions into it thereby saving their clients millions.”

Captain Yuriy Malanin, a seaman with 20 years of experience as a master of German heavy lift vessels, believes the CASCADe project is an interesting development that requires the support of experienced seamen. Like Capt Crowch, he also believes in the importance of training. “On the bridge of modern vessels we have many computerised systems and of course navigators can be overloaded with the huge volume of information coming from all corners,” he says. “But the main problem is not with bridge design. We have to improve the computer literacy of navigators. From my experience, nowadays a young navigator with little experience as navigator but with good computer knowledge has more chance of being a good navigator than a seaman experienced as a navigator but with a lack of computer literacy.

“So in order to minimise collisions and groundings, the reason for which CASCADe has been created, first of all we need to pay attention to our seamen’s knowledge and teach seamen as much as possible. If we only combine and simplify the computerised systems, we would have ‘GPS’ navigators who can take data from computers but who have no idea what it means.”

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