Wärtsilä Voyage has introduced a cloud simulation platform enabling seafarer academies to overcome lockdowns and distancing imposed by the coronavirus outbreak and continue training
This is the world’s first class-approved cloud-based simulator with training based on IMO’s standards of training, certification and watchkeeping (STCW) requirements.
Classification society ClassNK has certified online installations of Wärtsilä’s engineroom, liquid cargo and ballast handling simulators which also include navigation, ECDIS and passage planning training.
Wärtsilä Voyage director of solutions, business and development Johan Ekvall described this cloud training platform as “a remote service built remotely.”
The company had already largely developed its simulation cloud services by Q1 2020, enabling student seafarers to access simulation training courses from home. But it took a global health scare to accelerate the final stages of development.
“In three weeks, we did things that would normally have taken us six months,” explained Mr Ekvall.
“We had to deploy a completely new platform. We adapted navigational simulation systems that were designed to be on ships for the cloud, and prepared a tool meant to work on just one certified operating system to run on whatever students have at home,” he continued. “It was a huge achievement by our research and development team.”
The concept of remote simulator training was introduced by Wärtsilä Voyage (then Transas) in 2015 when State University of New York’s Maritime College started using a remote training platform.
That was a simpler system in which students made their own way through a pre-defined course, rather than the interaction between student and instructor enabled by Wärtsilä Simulation Cloud Services.
“The beauty of online classes is that the instructor takes their existing content and runs the course in almost the same way,” said Mr Ekvall. “Instructors can run the course from day one using their existing databases, models and exercise areas. Our technical challenge is to make that experience as good or better than the classroom, even when students have one screen instead of the multiple screens they may have in a classroom.”
Wärtsilä Voyage has been testing this simulator cloud platform with maritime colleges during Q2 2020. One of these was the maritime department at the University of Ljubljana.
It closed for a few days following social distancing recommendations imposed by the Slovenian Government in response to the coronavirus outbreak in March.
The faculty, including head of department Andrej Androjna, was aware that the recommendations would severely limit the practical training it could offer students. But a delay in their education would have knock-on impacts on recruitment.
The proposal from Wärtsilä Voyage was welcomed, said Dr Androjna. “We have established good relations with Wärtsilä Voyage over the years, including testing newly developed models and simulator integrations,” he said.
His department quickly saw the potential in Wärtsilä Voyage’s cloud solutions, deploying it across six course modules, including ECDIS training, main engine propulsion and passage planning.
These month-long courses, taught to students studying both naval architecture and marine engineering degrees, would have been severely restricted without the capability to offer them remotely.
“The cloud courses were a perfect solution to the problem of Covid-19,” said Dr Androjna. “We liked that the simulator preparation and choice of configuration are enabled and performed in the same way as in the actual simulator and that students can repeat the exercises without the presence of the instructor,” he said.
“We also noticed that students are much more relaxed and actually communicate more.”
As with any trial of a new service, there was constructive feedback. The debriefing process in a classroom is challenging to replicate, where the task is normally analysed with the help of physical tools – including active tables and marker pens for noting important elements on the exercise record.
In a real classroom, students can also switch between workplace sites resembling stations on the bridge. But Dr Androjna is convinced that Wärtsilä will be able to improve these elements.
“Simulation Cloud Services will give students a laboratory to learn in wherever they are,” he said. “It is the future. We are convinced of this and we are already testing a full mission simulation over the cloud using our own simulators at the school.”
Wärtsilä Voyage has noted this and is working to expand and improve this platform.
“Our next steps are to maximise automation of the management of cloud infrastructure, which will allow us to handle more customers,” said Wärtsilä Voyage sales director for global simulation Neil Bennett.
“But the key point we are working towards is a single platform allowing for all simulation training platforms – be that traditional classroom, cloud-based or even virtual and augmented realities,” he explained.
“Then all the investment in modelling, interface and content can be put into one version rather than replicated for each medium.”
According to Mr Bennett, feedback from schools like the University of Ljubljana indicate not only a willingness to try new solutions during a period of disruption, but a wider and more far-reaching change in attitude to seafarer training.
“Several schools have commented on how proud and impressed they are with their team members, who have gone, almost overnight, from classroom learning to taking courses online,” he said.
“Our users have seen that simulation cloud services will be needed in the future, and the current situation has only accelerated the adoption. I think this new service will pave the way for permanent changes in the way maritime training is delivered.”
Wärtsilä is presenting its technical solutions during Riviera Maritime Media’s Tug Technology Webinar Week, from 1 September 2020. Use this link to get more details and to register for these webinars