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Digital Connections

New technologies are multiplying benefits on the connected bridge.

sperry
File image courtesy Wartsila

Published Apr 4, 2021 11:27 PM by John Minetola

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2021 edition.)

One of the many benefits of recent bridge improvements is that displays can now be replicated in real time on a hand-held tablet.

All kinds of information – electronic log entries, task lists, monitoring the bridge from officers’ cabins, multitasking while in the ship’s public areas, sharing information with the ship’s office, tender navigation with the ship’s ECDIS (electronic chart display & information system) data – can now be accessed via a secure mobile device like a tablet.

A tablet is also a backup in case of power failure, fire or other incidents. If there is no MFD (multifunction display) on a bridge wing, Wärtsilä’s BridgeMate tablet is robust enough to analyze navigation and dynamic positioning data and deliver docking assistance.

These handy tablets are not just for mega-passenger vessels. Although Sperry’s TabletBridge and Wärtsilä’s BridgeMate are examples of ruggedized tablet devices that include GPS for backup use, Raytheon Anschütz and Navico’s Simrad division offer less expensive apps for wireless functions on a tablet or smartphone. Raytheon’s app includes NautilusLog, a paperless logbook that can be updated from anywhere on the ship – in the ship’s office, for instance, which may be a couple decks away from the bridge.

On smaller passenger vessels, many operations are managed with a shorter crew. When docking with a mate peering over the bow or stern with a walkie-talkie, it helps to have a display of engine and thruster data on a tablet. The mate can make a faster decision to call information to the bridge.

Simrad also offers lower-priced ECDIS and MFDs for surprisingly small non-SOLAS passenger boats and tenders. These can even have waterproof displays, like the NSSevo3S. The tender’s navigation and Simrad’s Link app can be wirelessly interfaced.

Turning & Berthing

On mega-vessels, Kongsberg’s Ethernet streams allow for combining radar images from four separate radars onto one image. With a mate peering over the stern rail, you can have two small, enclosed radomes at the transom corners integrated on the bridge into one range-ringed image with the short-range radar from the mast and the bow radar. Turning in a tight basin or channel is now more precise, cutting down on the walkie chatter and sweaty brow.

Sperry Marine has a new video solution for turning or berthing situations called SmartEye, providing further augmentation and giving navigators (and shore teams) live video views along with an overlay of navigation information. It’s handy for keeping a lookout for pilings and that little line-handling boat.

Using sophisticated video overlay, Furuno’s AR-100M Envision is a forward-looking video image that shows navigation and AIS targets superimposed on video. Kongsberg’s K-Bridge Conning includes camera picture-in-picture, right next to the data. It’s not your father’s simple camera anymore.

The Big Picture

The big picture in the news may be the vision of autonomous ships, but the way forward already offers a multitude of benefits to all possible connected systems and video with all data running in one Ethernet stream. The data simplifies shoreside cooperation, so the office on land can assist with voyage planning, records and payroll. You save on fuel, emissions and accident insurance payments.

Monitoring the data stream crosses over to class surveys as well. In a new arrangement using SperrySphere, DNV has just started to check bridge equipment status without having to study each piece.

Roger Trinterud, Kongsberg’s Sales Director for Cruise, Yacht & Passenger, points to expedition cruises with yacht-typical toys like submarines, helicopters and whale-watching tender marinas on board. On their K-Bridges, the SINT (Sensor INTerface cabinet) is more of a computer than a connections box. It can manage and send out data to the helicopter pad or submarine deck. Wind and current data help to avoid incidents during launch and retrieval.

Kongsberg is installing systems on the newbuild Seabourn Venture as well as Norwegian Yacht Voyages’ Caroline, another icebreaker-class, yacht/cruise ship under construction.

Parallel Parking

Parallel parking a car and berthing a ship are both complicated, but there are more variables on a ship, which is highly dependent on human interaction. For the near future, the good news is that most humans will not be replaced on a vessel or car, just helped out.

You’ve heard for years about how automated docking will work, but now it’s in use on a large ship on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. After months of testing, Wärtsilä’s SmartMove Suite is active on MV American Courage, a Great Lakes self-unloading bulk freighter owned by American Steamship Company. It’s the largest-ever ship capable of performing automated docking and dock-to-dock sailing operations.

Says John Marshall, Senior Business Development Manager, Automation & DP for Wärtsilä Voyage Americas, “This is not about going captain-free, but rather enhancing the capabilities of onboard crew as they traverse shuttle routes, congested or restricted areas.”

Networked Systems

Sperry Marine’s new navigation suite, SperrySphere, is being installed on several newbuilds this year. SperrySphere connects the back and front of the bridge (one regulated, one not) safely and securely so that land operation centers can collect data from bridge systems.

There’s a secure data link to fleet operation centers to enable both remote access, troubleshooting and decision support from shore as well as partnerships with third-party software and service providers to enhance safety and drive efficiency.

Right now, Sperry is enabling the full rollout of VisionMaster Net, its newest networked bridge system. The newbuilds use the IMO Ethernet standard for all sensors and electronics including radar.

“VisionMaster Net is the first bridge solution to radically redefine the space and location requirements for a navigation bridge,” says Ralf Magner, Business Unit Director of Products & Systems, “making it a more ergonomic and user-friendly space for mariners.”

Just out in January, the Raytheon Anschütz ECDIS NX Compact is a preconfigured system of a 24-inch Panel PC and the ECDIS NX software. Optimized for ECDIS retrofits, it includes a software installation wizard and requires only the input of ship-specific parameters. In use, all mandatory functions are available at a single touch or through wizard-guided workflows.

“A package may also include the next-generation gyro compass, the Standard 22 NX, enabling even simpler integration and install time on newbuilds and refits,” says Marketing Manager Martin Richter. “The new compass has an integrated web server for programming and extended interfaces to even the most varied environments.”

JRC, distributed and serviced by Alphatron in America, has a proven ECDIS and new integration software. Its improved human interface also brings up news about alerts.

Managing Alerts

Managing alerts on radar and ECDIS has been a problem for many years because too many alerts were categorized as high priority, distracting from navigation. IMO requirements include BAM (bridge alert management), but the need for ease of use continues to drive improvements.

RAN-Dock, created in 2018, is a creative space within the Raytheon Anschütz headquarters in Kiel, Germany. Employees and maritime professionals use RAN-Dock as a workshop where they can develop new methods of cooperation.

Customers are involved early in order to test and validate ideas using simulators that come very close to real world conditions. “In the past, user interfaces of bridge systems were often defined by software engineers only, but missed the experience from users,” notes Björn Schröder, Product Manager for ECDIS & Bridge Assistance Systems at Raytheon Anschütz.

The team has analyzed and prioritized more than 400 tasks and use cases for ECDIS and radar. After almost two years of modeling and prototyping, solutions are now implemented.

In the background, a central bridge database collects alerts in the network and determines whether the situation is sufficiently critical to set off an alarm or whether the watch officer will only get a lower-priority alert. In addition, Raytheon INS (integrated navigation system) alerts only have to be acknowledged once and then are simply cleared when the problem is solved.

Kongsberg is using artificial intelligence to track multiple alerts to the source for problem solving. Very soon, the bridge watch will first see an alert for the original problem that then triggered alerts from related systems.

Alongside these developments, the IMO is trying to standardize operating software. Right now we’re seeing very positive results in the relatively short time since ECDIS and BAM were finalized. And officer training will apply to many ships, not just a few.

Sperry Marine concurs that tasks and actions that have little value for humans should be automated. The latest version of VisionMaster isolates and prioritizes alerts so that mariners only have to take immediate action to maintain the safe navigation and operation of the vessel.

Standardized Icons

“Alerts are now presented visually using standardized icons that are being adopted across the shipping industry,” says James Collett, Managing Director, Sperry Marine. “These are designed to shorten the learning curve for mariners who are new to a ship. The icons are designed with human factors in mind using color and shape to differentiate the messages, thus making them as intuitive as possible.”                  

John Minetola writes on technology for the magazine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.