Danish technology company Virsabi is teaming up with Viking Supply Ships and MAN Diesel and Turbo on the development of a mixed reality system that will be used for onboard vessel maintenance and trouble shooting.
While virtual reality involves wearing special glasses that present an alternative reality that is disconnected from the wearer's current physical presence, mixed reality enables the wearer to see reality through glasses and in the glasses. It is similar to augmented reality, but the user is able to interact with their physical surroundings and get feedback based on that.
Virsabi is currently using Microsoft HoloLens glasses, says Borger Borgersen, Virsabi Business Intelligence Director. “Basically you are wearing a Windows 10 computer on your head. These glasses makes it possible for you to look through the glasses and orientate yourself in the real world, and we can then add information and react on the real world.”
The glasses can vision where the wearer is when entering, for example, a ship's engine room. It will identify the machinery and obtain specific information about it. The glasses can then display the maintenance history of the equipment, what needs to be done now and what safety precautions need to be taken. Instructions on what to do are given step-by-step with the glasses recognizing if particular instructions are not followed.
“All instructions on what to do can be presented by a voice or text message in front of you. So, with the glasses, you can use both hands while you get instructions, you don't need to turn away from the engine while working. And with that, you actually speed up the process,” says Borgersen.
The are fewer errors, better safety and less-skilled technicians are enabled to complete tasks that they may not be able to do alone, he says. Virsabi can add Skype call functionality, for off-site advice with the expert called able to also see what the technician is seeing. Additionally, the system makes sure that everything is recorded for warranty purposes.
This is really a radical approach, says Jens Lauritsen, Chief Product Officer at Virsabi. “Think about classic processes on board a ship with the chief engineer. If he has to do an overhaul to an engine component, he'll start his morning at his computer, he will print out a PDF manual for the overhaul. He will go to the parts storage room and get the parts that he needs. He has to remember to go back to the computer and register the fact that he's taking out these parts, so new parts are ordered. Then he goes to the engine room, and he does the work based on the PDF that he printed out. Then he has to remember when he's done with the work to go back to the computer and register the fact that he has done the overhaul.
“What we're trying to do here is take out all those switches back and forth, all those manual processes, and basically built it into the technology that he'll be wearing on his head.”
It's a technology that is relevant to autonomous ships, says Lauritsen. “I don't think it's realistic to introduce autonomous ships tomorrow. You're not going to go from having a crew of 20 people aboard a ship and then the day after, you're going to be zero on board. It's going to be a process where the specialists will disappear from ships until one day when the ship can be completely autonomous,” he says.
“With these glasses on, as a person who knows how to use a screwdriver and a wrench, you are able to do work that would otherwise require a specialist, because we can give you the instructions step by step. That means, over the next 10 years, you will be able to have less specialists on board the ships, because the people on board will be able to do the work based on the instructions they get from the glasses, or the support they can get from specialists on land.”
The prototype system is being developed with the support of the Maritime Development Center in Denmark and is funded by the Danish Maritime Foundation. It is expected to be operational this November.