Cloud computing is opening more opportunities in the maritime sector for machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity as well as allowing seafarers on different ships to communicate with each other. Shipowners and managers can begin to utilise the growing trend known as the Internet of Things (IoT), which combines M2M with human-machine interfaces, by linking to cloud services. What is required in order to use cloud services is secure onshore servers, and broadband connections, achieved through satellite communications or using the global system for mobile communications (GSM).
The principle behind the IoT concept is linking multiple sensors on machinery and equipment to one online cloud-based server and then allowing various stakeholders access to the data. The shipping industry has been slowly moving into the field of IoT as ships are increasingly carrying a multitude of sensors on board, collecting data. However, until recently the data has not been utilised and analysed enough to allow shipowners to optimise their operations. The development of industrial IoT has been made possible by the latest advances in source software, wireless systems, cloud computing, and mobile technologies.
A recent test bed for IoT using a maritime cloud communications framework was successfully run in Norway on Bastø Fosen ferries sailing across the Horten-Moss Strait in the Oslo Fjord. The engine for this test was the Open Bridge Platform, which is based on open source software including Marssa (Marine Systems Software Architecture) and the Maritime Cloud communications framework, which is another open source artefact. The human-machine interface to this system is a tablet computer with the Rex (route exchange) sea traffic management application. This reads the ship’s onboard sensors and provides real-time information to the captain. It also sends data to the cloud, so captains on other ferries in the fleet can see the information. The cloud is also open to the land-based sea traffic co-ordination centre.
The whole system supports collaborative decision making among the key stakeholders involved in ferry operations, to improve ship safety and efficiency and support environmentally-friendly maritime operations.
The Open Bridge Platform was designed by domain-specific marine software engineers in close collaboration with the ferry captains and crews. The tablet application includes a chart of the area of operation that shows all the ships that are carrying the IoT-enabled Open Bridge Platform. Thus, captains on the ferries can visualise the intentions of the other vessels, as can the onshore vessel traffic services centres. This should reduce the risk of collisions in the busy shipping lanes of the Oslo Fjord.
The Rex application shares real-time route intentions, using dynamic estimated time of arrivals to display where ships will be at any given moment. It can also highlight to captains the potential collision courses and suggest safe passages. It replaces the older method of captains using very high frequency (VHF) radio communications to state their intended course to other vessels.
The Rex application is based on an open standard for route exchange developed as part of the Monalisa 2.0 EU-funded project for developing sea traffic management systems. The application and Open Bridge Platform are run on Linux mini-computers on board ships and onshore servers. The captains can access the data with the Rex application on any mobile device. The solution could also be linked to ship bridge equipment in the future.
The Maritime ICT Cloud
To provide the correct information, Bastø Fosen pre-programmed all the standard sea routes that its ferries follow. The routes vary depending on a number of factors such as season, sea, wind, and wave conditions. It also added ship technical data, which can be used to calculate operating factors such as the time it takes each ferry to accelerate and decelerate. The test has highlighted how cloud computing and IoT can improve navigational safety in a busy shipping area.
Cloud computing can also provide communications between ship systems and stakeholders ashore that want to monitor cargo and onboard operations. Ericsson recently announced its intention to develop a maritime information and communications (ICT) cloud service that will provide full connectivity between fleet managers and ships. This will combine a managed cloud solution with industry applications, service enablement and connectivity management, as well as consulting and systems integration services.
Ericsson will provide everything from satellite connections to application support, and it will manage operations on the Maritime ICT Cloud. This will connect vessels at sea with shore-based operations, maintenance service providers, and customer support centres, as well as with fleet and transportation partners and port operators and authorities. Ericsson expects the services will facilitate voyage optimisation and condition-based maintenance strategies for owners, better welfare for crew and improved cargo monitoring for charterers.
Large amounts of real-time and historic data will be available on the Maritime ICT Cloud to various users, depending on their information requirements. Ericsson said this should replace the time-consuming process of manually updating traffic, cargo, port, weather and safety information. The sharing of fuel consumption data and machinery should lead to efficiencies and reduce bunker costs for shipowners. Fuel can be the single biggest expense for ship operators, and charterers (depending on the charter arrangements), so any reduction in consumption can lead to large savings and rapid payback times.
Ericsson’s cloud will enable shipmanagers to monitor engines and fuel consumption, oversee routes and navigation, and ensure the wellbeing of the crew. “Vessels at sea have systems in place that allow them to monitor critical functions and fuel usage,” said Ericsson head of industry applications Orvar Hurtig. He said that ship managers can use ICT systems to “set and maintain an optimal course and ensure the welfare of their crew.” However, there are connectivity and integration issues.
“They are not particularly well integrated with fleet management systems on shore, and they do not maximise the potential of real-time data,” he continued. Mr Hurtig thinks the Maritime ICT Cloud will help connect these disparate systems and enable them to share information with low latency. This can result in cost savings. For example, using engine diagnostics data and experience from the manufacturer can lead to improvements in operations, reductions in down time and enhanced efficiency, as well as lower operating expenditure.
In another example, having the latest weather data and traffic conditions would enable captains to optimise their voyages to save time, fuel and money while also limiting ship emissions. Container shipowners would also benefit from offering cargo monitoring services. Containers can be wirelessly connected to a ship’s communications systems, enabling monitoring of real-time data and the condition of the cargo.
For crew welfare, the Maritime ICT Cloud can offer a multi-service communications platform with optimised connectivity and bandwidth for different types of traffic. It could also be used for storing and accessing training information, such as crew certificates, as well as their training requirements. The cloud can also be used for telemedicine, by storing seafarer health information as well as providing the connection to remote medical assistance.
Mespas provides cloud-based fleet management software for owners for planned maintenance and procurement services. The Switzerland-based company is running Mespas version R5.14 for shipmanagers who need to use e-commerce systems for equipment and service procurement. The software enables suppliers to be found, and companies can set profile settings and highlight their requirements.
Mespas R5 allows office staff and onboard users to carry out all purchasing-related activities on one screen, while still having an overview of operations. Users can adjust the interface to work on desktop monitors, dual screen configurations or portable computers. The software can be configured to shipmanagers to match their individual and evolving requirements. It can also be integrated into third party software, such as accounting systems.
Servicing bridge equipment
Equipment suppliers use cloud computing to provide service support solutions. For example, Danelec Marine unveiled its eServiceConnect initiative in March to automate and streamline the shipboard service of its products. This operates over the Internet as a cloud-based service that connects equipment manufacturers, service companies and shipmanagers. It should facilitate the efficient servicing of bridge equipment, automating the manual processes involved in planning and executing ship service calls.
Danelec said the service will be phased in, beginning with the annual performance tests of voyage data recorders (VDRs) and simplified VDRs. It will then be expanded to other Danelec equipment in the third quarter of this year.
EServiceConnect will automate the manual processes that are involved in planning and executing a ship service call. It will hold previous service history, service company information and equipment procedures.
A service company will be able to retrieve service information from the cloud. It can alert shipmanagers to any potential issues and ensure the ship is ready for the service call. Technicians can use eServiceConnect to verify the performance of bridge products and extract a data sample from a VDR. Once ashore, the technician can send the data samples to Danelec for a technical team to review as part of a quality control procedure.
Television services on ships, particularly cruise ships, can be acquired through cloud-based systems. In February, Amagi revealed its Stormplus hybrid TV receiver and decoder that supports local content and receives programmes from satellite services. It can source content from cloud-based management platforms, store programs and be remotely operated. It allows TV networks to schedule, control and monitor the play-out of local content and insert advertising within this content. MEC