Training crew in new skills and assisting with maintenance and servicing are just two potential applications for the technology under development
Based in what is sometimes referred to as the maritime equivalent to Silicon Valley, the Sunnmøre region on Norway’s western coast, Fostech is working to provide augmented reality solutions for the maritime sector.
Augmented reality – whereby the real-world environment is augmented with computer-generated information projected on the field of vision – is a growing area of tech development. Apple’s Tim Cook said it could potentially be as big as the smartphone in a 2017 interview with Business Insider, and Equinor chief executive Eldar Saetre has identified it alongside big data and artificial intelligence as a key area of technological development.
Equinor have already experimented with the technology on their Mariner platform while it was under construction at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. According to IT director Åshild Hanne Larsen, Equinor tested how long it took to find a specific tube in one of the platform’s modules. They found that without the glasses it took a full hour, while using the glasses it took only three minutes. Possible applications the company foresees are for maintenance, or when planning modifications to, or installation of, equipment in the field.
Fostech’s founder Håvard Notøy has worked in the maritime sector for 30 years, starting work at a local shipyard at the age of 17 and going on to work in aftersales and services in a variety of roles at Rolls-Royce Marine and Havyard. The company was launched in October 2015 and has offices in Fosnavaag and at the Norwegian Maritime Competence Centre in Ålesund. It currently has six full-time and four part-time employees.
The company’s projects include a crane education programme designed to be carried out from the comfort of a crew member’s cabin, removing the need to travel and attend courses in person, and a simulated fire emergency that produces a virtual fire complete with smoke and audio to allow for evacuation training in real-world environments. Carrying out such drills at a training centre “can’t compare to going down to the machine room and actually doing this together with your colleagues on board a ship,” said Mr Notøy.
He added that a Norwegian shipyard is already using the technology for supervisors during vessel construction. Using this, the supervisor can inspect newbuild vessels and instantly bring up blueprints and plans and compare them with the finished product. Should any discrepancies be found, the supervisor can then use the headset to Skype with engineers.
Mr Notøy also sees a use for the technology with the rise of autonomous vessels. Explaining that as crew numbers on autonomous vessels decrease, those left aboard will need more and more knowledge of equipment and procedures to carry out services. Using augmented reality will allow for data such as manuals and blueprints to be easily brought up and accessed, aiding the crew member – an area that Rolls-Royce also sees applications for augmented reality in.
“None of the solutions here exist in today’s maritime market,” said Mr Notøy, adding that shipping companies Fostech have demonstrated the technology to have been quick to recognise its high value as a means of driving down operational costs and allowing them to carry out services themselves without being reliant on aftersales support from manufacturers. While Mr Notøy accepts that equipment manufacturers would not be thrilled with this as it would reduce their turnover from services, he also points out that “if you ask any equipment manufacturer they will say to you that man hours [spent carrying out servicing] are not very profitable, but spare parts are extremely profitable,” and customers looking into the technology’s use already include equipment manufacturers.