New ideas could save lives and stop collisions

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

22 May 2018


Apart from the final tranche of ECDIS installations, there are no requirements for new equipment on the bridge but innovative ideas and products deserve consideration for the benefits they can confer. A new product being developed by Bergen, Norway-based ScanReach which describes itself as an IoT specialist definitely falls within this category.

In:Range is a tool designed to keep track of personnel on board in emergency situations. According to ScanReach, existing solutions and procedures are mainly analogue, based on manual headcounts and paper sheets. This is a time consuming and complicated process often leading to dangerous situations and potential loss of lives. Delays in identifying and locating missing personnel leads to delays in mobilising assistance and providing potentially life-saving treatment.

In:Range employs smart ‘low power’ wireless IoT sensor technology providing on-board emergency response teams with an immediate overview and position of all personnel in real time. This information can be shared with different locations – such as fleet management offices, shipowner offices, insurance companies, coastal services and rescue departments – through cloud-based services, enabling enhanced decision support and assistance in emergencies.

The product consists of personal tags for each crew member, interior and exterior sensors placed around the ship, a central unit for data processing and a screen for visual presentation although navigation screens on the bridge can be used as add-ins. The vessel interior and exterior sensors are positioned at selected locations so as to ensure complete coverage of the vessel’s spaces. As personnel move around, their tag is identified by the nearest sensor, and wirelessly transmitted to the central unit. A connected PC with In:Range software collects the crew location information from the central unit, and presents it on a visual interface.

In:Range is delivered as a “plug and play” solution, and can be easily installed by the crew during normal operation. The system is wireless, with no cabling required between sensors. It also features battery backup for continuous real-time dataflow during potential vessel power blackouts. In addition to real-time location of personnel ScanReach say the In:Range can be expanded to cover additional valuable services such as a personal safety alert, creation of virtual area barriers and area access control and a man overboard functionality.

ScanReach say the system is currently being tested onboard the offshore construction vessel North Sea Giant. Being able to test over time onboard such a vessel with over 100 crew connected will provide the shipowner and ScanReach with valuable knowledge, information and data in order to improve In:Range. These full scale tests will also provide valuable knowledge better understanding the effect having In:Range installed during training in emergency and distress operations.

Another recent test project with safety implications has just been completed by Rolls-Royce. the £1.3 million MAXCMAS (MAchine eXecutable Collision regulations for Marine Autonomous Systems) research project, was aimed at demonstrating that the operation of autonomous vessels can meet, if not exceed, current collision avoidance (COLREG) rules.

Project partners Lloyd’s Register, Warsash Maritime Academy (WMA), Queen’s University Belfast and Atlas Elektronik (AEUK) found that use of newly developed algorithms allowed existing COLREGs to remain relevant in a crewless environment, finding that Artificial Intelligence-based navigation systems were able to enact the rules to avoid collision effectively, even when approaching manned vessels were interpreting the rules differently.

Rolls-Royce Future Technologies Group’s Eshan Rajabally, who led the project, said: “Through MAXCMAS, we have demonstrated autonomous collision avoidance that is indistinguishable from good seafarer behaviour and we’ve confirmed this by having WMA instructors assess MAXCMAS exactly as they would assess the human.”

During the development project, Rolls-Royce and its partners adapted a commercial-specification bridge simulator as a testbed for autonomous navigation. This was also used to validate autonomous seafarer-like collision avoidance in likely real-world scenarios. During sea trials aboard AEUK’s ARCIMS Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), collision avoidance was successfully demonstrated in a real environment under true platform motion, sensor performance and environmental conditions.

“The trials showed that an unmanned vessel is capable of making a collision avoidance judgement call even when the give-way vessel isn’t taking appropriate action,” said Ralph Dodds, Innovation & Autonomous Systems Programme Manager, AEUK. “What MAXCMAS does is make the collision avoidance regulations applicable to the unmanned ship.”