Reimagining the Bridge

Nuyina central conning console courtesy of Mike Jackson
Nuyina central conning console courtesy of Mike Jackson

Published Apr 20, 2019 9:00 PM by Wendy Laursen

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2019 edition.)

For all the developmental work going on in sensor fusion, digitalization and autonomy, there's no escaping the human element for safety, efficiency and style.

In designing the bridge for Australia's new icebreaker, Nuyina, the captain of the nation's old icebreaker covered walls and workbenches with sheets of paper printed with life-size representations of the bridge instruments. Then, using “role play” to move around the bridge, he customized the original design provided by Damen to suit the safety and efficiency needs of the vessel's unique operations.

Much of the Nuyina's bridge equipment is being supplied by Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime. To facilitate the wide range of tasks she will perform, her dynamic positioning (DP) system will be operated via a joystick at the central conning console or by a movable “compact wing station” that can be plugged into different points on the bridge.

Situational Awareness

Kongsberg is busy expanding its bridge system capabilities. Through its work on autonomous vessels such as Yara Birkeland, it has developed Sensor Fusion technology that combines traditional navigation sensors like radar and sonar with cameras and lasers. It’s designed to deliver complete situational awareness for manned vessels. The company's Situational Awareness Display renders a 3D image based on the model generated by the Sensor Fusion input.

Users can select what is displayed and choose between various viewpoints within the model to ensure safe and efficient operation. For example, they could view the vessel from 100 meters above during docking, see through the vessel from one bridge wing during harbor maneuvering or have a forward view during transit.

Yara Birkeland will ultimately be unmanned. When delivered from the yard, though, she will be operated by a minimum crew with the wheelhouse designed so it can subsequently be removed. The control electronics are located in the hull and interfaced to the autonomous “brain” that communicates with the shore-based control center, the Sensor Fusion system and the temporary wheelhouse.

Kongsberg has also developed a new all-speed autopilot that combines traditional autopilot and trackpilot functions with joystick and DP into a single, common control that works from high-speed transit down to zero speed and station-keeping. The all-speed autopilot is suitable for any vessel but mainly targeted at those that don't currently use DP.

The idea is to make station-keeping possibilities available for more vessels without the need for a full DP system. By interfacing thrusters and propellers with the autopilot and using DP knowledge, the autopilot will increase the use of thrusters to keep heading at lower speeds and, if the speed drops to zero, automatically move to station-keeping mode.

A New Kind of A.I.

Developments in autonomy are also being applied to manned operation by Wärtsilä. Underway at the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre in Singapore is the IntelliTug project. The resulting vessel will be capable of performing a range of routine missions while improving safety and efficiency and reducing operator workload and pressure in what is one of the world’s most demanding harbors.

IntelliTug involves a combination of technologies to create a tailored solution for Singapore’s unique requirements including a new, near-field wideband radar and real-time video analytics integrated with a lightweight human-centric mission control system to supervise operations during close-quarters situations. Together with Singapore's Marine and Port Authority and PSA Marine, Wärtsilä is expected to test-bed IntelliTug on an existing tugboat this year.

Raytheon Anschütz recently unveiled a new suite of navigational software designed for intuitive operation that leverages the expertise of experienced navigators and user-interface designers. With ECDIS NX, one part of the company's new Synapsis NX range, route planning becomes a “wizard-guided” process that uses intuitive principles such as drag-and-drop for waypoints.

The new Synapsis NX applications include integrated navigational functions such as radar/AIS target management, alert management and sensor integrity monitoring. Raytheon Anschütz sees these integrated navigation systems as the future: They bring a new kind of artificial intelligence.

With a conventional bridge system the navigator needs to monitor, analyze and operate lots of data, sensors and systems. An integrated bridge, as its name implies, combines data from the sensors and lets the navigator interact with a single, consistent core navigation system – a boost to both safety and efficiency.

Sensor data is analyzed, checked for integrity, bundled and distributed as the most reliable data set to any connected workstation. Targets are observed in the background and presented with a consistent designation on any radar or ECDIS display. A central bridge alert management collects alerts in the network and determines, with regard to system configuration and status, whether the situation is sufficiently critical to set off an alarm or whether the watch officer gets a lower priority alert.

IMO Support

The IMO is involved in the industry's technological advances through its e-Navigation project, which aims to ensure seafarers are provided with the information they need for safe and efficient navigation. This year the IMO is expected to agree on guidelines for S-Mode, a standard mode of operation for navigational displays that is common to all equipment manufacturers and can optionally be selected by the user. There are currently over 30 ECDIS manufacturers, and some key operational features differ widely among them.

Additionally, IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim has voiced support for the Sea Traffic Management (STM) project. STM connects and updates ships and ports in real time and facilitates efficient information exchange. It’s already been installed on 200 ships and in six shore centers with 200 more ships to be added soon.

The intended route on the ECDIS is shared with nearby ships over AIS for safety reasons and over the Internet, using a global standardized route format, with authorities and partners on shore for both safety and efficiency reasons. About 15 STM-based services are active, and the STM project team is currently working on global standards for port call data.

Wärtsilä has been involved with the project from the beginning and has delivered STM-compliant equipment to 130 vessels and two shore centers. Adveto and Furuno have also been involved.

The global rollout of the technology could be a long story. Some ECDIS providers are already adding STM functionality to their products which, like S-Mode, will involve an update to existing onboard systems. Therefore it’s likely that STM will piggy-back on other updates. Whether or not ship operators use the functionality will depend on the business value of the enhanced services. This could depend on the enthusiasm of shoreside vessel traffic system operators, who view it as a boost to safety, and of terminal operators, who see efficiency gains.

Legacy Systems

Existing bridge systems are not too far behind and continue to evolve with both software and hardware updates. Beijer Electronics is seeing companies work out ways to present data from old, legacy equipment on modern user interfaces. This often occurs through a software protocol conversion to make them compatible with modern communication systems.

New equipment manufacturers are also looking to boost the performance of their standard offerings. As part of a shipbuilding order for the Yamal LNG project, Danish company DESMI decided to upgrade critical hardware it was providing for an energy-saving system for a vessel's pumps. DESMI chose Beijer Electronics' rugged operator panel so that the equipment could withstand the extended temperature range and constant vibration associated with icebreaking activities.

Sperry Marine has created TabletBridge to meet customer demands for mobile monitoring of ECDIS during docking procedures. The system provides the same ECDIS view on up to four separate units using a ruggedized tablet with strong cyber security connected to a private wireless network.

The pleasure market is also taking part in the industry's latest design and equipment innovations. Telemar's Glass Bridge offers responsive access to all essential bridge control and safety systems via a single sheet of high-quality glass covering the entire console. Data and control functionality can be selected and accessed through the glass, as with traditional touch screens, but the system also facilitates the use of hardware controls installed under or through the control surface. This ensures that essential safety functions, such as the wind screen wipers or horn, are always immediately accessible as permanent controls rather than being found deep within the system’s menu structure.

The bridge can take any form on board as long as it follows class society guidelines for safe operation and is also available as a “walkaround” bridge. A “Lux” variant provides haptic feedback on touch screen controls, notifying the operator that a function has been safely activated.

Doing It With Style

A cooperation between automotive and nautical designers recognizes another human element factor in bridge equipment design – style. The nautical dashboard Sea Drive Concept designed by the Peugeot Design Lab for Beneteau Boats won a French design award late last year for its ergonomics and streamlined style.

The design is constructed around a blend of touchscreens and physical buttons and features a high-quality leather finish with satin chrome keys. The Ship Control interface is an onboard computer that allows the crew to view vital information about the boat – navigation, engine regime, control of the level of batteries and reservoirs, air conditioning, lighting and Hi-Fi.

The compact steering wheel facilitates maneuverability, and a detachable tablet shows navigation information at eye-level, ensuring that safety and efficiency, as well as style, are included. – MarEx

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