A number of companies are coming together to enhance navigational safety for vessels, providing bridge personnel with a better understanding of their surroundings.
Rolls-Royce and Mitsui O.S.K Lines, Ltd (MOL) have verified that navigational safety for vessels and ships is now set to improve significantly through new machine learning technologies and intelligent awareness systems (IA), which will revolutionise sailing in adverse weather conditions, in the dark and in congested waterways.
The positive outlook for the future comes following the success of a pilot project between the two companies aboard passenger ferry, Sunflower Gold. The results were released by Rolls-Royce in a press release that went live at the beginning of September 2018. Government Europa reports on the results and explores other ways in which safety is being addressed in the sea.
Rolls-Royce’s IA technology
Rolls-Royce’s project to develop navigational safety for vessels came about after the development of a new IA system that can ultimately transform night into day, making it easier for the bridge personnel to navigate and understand their surroundings.
The IA system forms part of Rolls-Royce’s developments in autonomous shipping. However, due to its easy implementation to any type of vessel and its benefits to the existing shipping environment, the company decided to release the technology now, making it the first of its kind to be commercially available.
The technology which Rolls-Royce has developed assists ships in their navigation by producing a 3D map of the vessel, based on light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which uses a pulsed laser to measure distance. As a result, an external overview of the vessel’s surroundings can be made, creating “an accurate bird’s eye view of the surrounding area”.
As reported in Passenger Ship Technology, Liro Lindborg, general manager of remote and autonomous operations at Rolls-Royce, said: “We can use the IA system in any ship where there is a need for better situational awareness, particularly during night sailings or in adverse weather conditions.” In a separate statement Lindborg added that “it provides an advisory solution to supplement basic information available from ECDIS and RADAR, with the LiDAR 3D map creating an accurate bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.”
A joint development agreement was signed between Rolls-Royce and MOL in 2017, which in turn led to the installation of IA sensors, thermal imaging cameras and the LiDAR system on the Sunflower Gold vessel in April 2018.
The Sunflower Gold vessel
The vessel which MOL provided for the testing of the new system was the passenger ferry, Sunflower Gold. The vessel operates between Kobe and Oita, Japan at night and sails through some of the most challenging waters in the world; Sunflower navigates the Akashi Kaikyo, Bisan Seto and Kurushima Straits routes. During the night, the routes which the ship sails are usually congested with fishing nets and small to mid-sized fishing vessels, meaning that efforts to improve navigational safety for vessels could be of great benefit to the ship in question.
Kenta Arai, director at MOL has stated that: “Our crew always needs to be under intense situational awareness because our ferry runs through an area with heavy marine traffic in the dark and the relative speed is high.”
Simplifying navigation for maritime bridge personnel
The results from five months’ worth of sea trials on the vessel found that navigating officers in the bridge were able to visually detect objects that would otherwise have been impossible to the human eye in the darkness of the night.
Liro Lindborg, general manager of remote and autonomous solutions at Rolls-Royce has stated that “during the trials the intelligent awareness system was able to detect all potential navigational obstacles, allowing the crew to mitigate against any safety risks during night crossings.”
MOL has stated that the results from the initial testing project were successful and the crew who used the system aboard the Sunflower Gold vessel all provided positive feedback; suggesting that the system worked as it should and could now be one of the frontrunner solutions to safer waters in an industry which is growing rapidly.
The results from the project will allow Rolls-Royce to expand their technology and develop their machine learning and intelligent awareness capability even further. Rolls-Royce have also stated that they will be performing tests onboard Finferries’ 65m double-ended ferry Stella; which operates between Korpo and Houtskär in the Archipelago Seas on the Southwest coast of Finland. The data captured from the tests will also be fed into the Rolls-Royce machine learning algorithm.
Revolutionising navigational safety for vessels with bridge display developments/h3>
In December 2017, MOL also announced that they had signed an agreement with Furuno Electric, a Japanese based electronics manufacturer. The agreement was signed to collaboratively develop an information display system using augmented reality (AR) technology which will enhance further the user experience and simplicity for their bridge personnel during their journeys.
The system will provide support via information on the presence of other ships in the vicinity around the vessel, as well as other landmarks and obstacles obstructing the route. Data collected from the automatic identification system can be displayed on tablets and other devices. The images taken build on AR technology, providing visuals to crew in assisting with surveillance of the ships throughout the voyage.
In a statement, MOL said: “MOL is looking at ways to overlap displays of obstacles taken by radar, adding an obstacle zone by target, which is an algorithm to prevent collisions between vessels, and supplementing displays of obstacles using image recognition technologies to expand such functions.”