Remote Collaboration in Maritime: what is it, why deploy, and how to find the right one
There is a vessel stuck in the middle of the sea that has lost propulsion or lost steering. It’s a critical situation that must be fixed. The issue might be a failure of an automation system, engine, other mechanics, or maybe a leakage of the stern shaft bearing. The situation has to be evaluated at sea to find the critical faults and to prevent further damage, water intake to the hull or oil leakage. All while ensuring safety of the crew, passengers, the environment and the cargo before getting the vessel on the dock.
Sensor data systems are very helpful in many cases, but are insufficient when the fault needs fixing offshore or can’t be found analysing the sensor data and the situation is critical, the professionals on board need to be supported by experts on-shore.
“Most of the problems we can solve using our sensor data, but when the sensor data is not enough, we need to step into the real world, and then we use augmented reality technologies like POINTR remote collaboration. To show us what spare parts, what tools, and what is the real problem on the site”, describes Johan Sjöblom, product manager of new digital services of Wärtsilä.
Modern remote collaboration solutions enable experts collaborate with the crew in real time using augmented reality. The former professional process of instructing through phone is known to be inaccurate, unclear and inconvenient. Also, common consumer smart phone communication tools are not cyber secure or functioning reliably in such challenging conditions.
Low connectivity creates challenging environment
The challenge for deploying collaboration tools in the maritime industry is connectivity, which is the basic requirement for achieving the benefits of remote collaboration. There are two aspect to the connectivity: connectivity to the vessel and connectivity within the vessel. More vessels start being equipped with the satellite broadband, bur majority of vessels still rely on low bandwidth satellite communication. Making it more challenging, there might be connectivity only in certain locations within the vessel such as command bridge.
The deployed solution needs to be designed for these conditions. Connectivity-wise, the solution must function with lower end satellite connectivity systems. Working with low - and partly no - connectivity, it must also maintain the session together with the annotations made when the connection is cut.
For example, the crew’s technician needs to go into the machine room in offline mode and collect the material. Then go back to the bridge to transmit the material, receive instructions, and go back to the engine room to implement the instructions. The solution has to be able to maintain the session and it has to be reliable in this context.
“Connectivity is one of the key technical and business issues at the moment. But luckily it's going to be improved with the proliferation of low orbit satellites and satellite broadband connections, which are also affordable price-wise”, states Dr. Boris Krassi, the CEO of Delta Cygni Labs about the challenges maritime customers bring up in conversations about remote collaboration.
Benefits for business and environment
Successful deployment of a suitable remote collaboration solution can achieve significant efficiency and safety benefits in maritime, allowing service faster and with higher quality from shore to the vessels. The maritime ecosystem is composed of several diverse sectors including merchant and cruise vessels, off-shore, port infrastructure, ship building. A feature of this ecosystem is that there are certain companies that are extremely networked. Mainly those are service companies like Wärtsilä, ABB, and Kongsberg, providing services to multiple sectors in the ecosystem. “We think that remote collaboration will have the biggest impact on the operations of those service aggregators and they will benefit the most”, Dr. Krassi estimates.
The maritime business benefits is not the only perspective: “With remote collaboration we can reduce the probability of a big ecological catastrophe. We can be speaking about the Baltic Sea where the traffic of Tankers has increased and whenever there's a problem it can be addressed very fast. And then an even bigger impact will be in the Arctic when the ice melts and the northern passage will be used more and more.” Explains Dr. Krassi.
As the locations in the arctic sea are still extremely remote, getting help physically there to help the crew is often not possible. Remote collaboration is the only option in hard-to-reach areas like the Arctic and therefore it’s a key factor to keep the Arctic clean. Especially now when maritime traffic in the Arctic’s northern passage is being increased.
“Of course savings, efficiency, and new business opportunities achieved are important, these are the key business drivers for the ship owners and shipping companies. At the same time we have to really think about the very efficient ways to keep our seas clean. If it's a leakage, if it's some kind of a critical situation that would result in the crash and therefore pollution. You can help the crew whenever needed, and you know what kind of resources are needed to address a challenging situation once it appears”, Dr. Krassi tells considering the large scale benefits in maritime.
Finding the right solution: Key features to evaluate
At this age of digitalisation the valid question is, what are the vital features to look for when evaluating the remote collaboration solutions in the market. In most use cases in maritime, at least one party is working in a low connectivity circumstances. Therefore, reliability is the first feature: the solution has to work in a very challenging conditions far away from the coast and through the satellite network available. Despite the low connectivity, it has to provide a clear image of the situation.
Another perspective is scalability. It is impossible to know where problems hit, so the solution has to be deployed at scale to all vessels, in advance. Scaling throughout the fleet and on-shore personnel, as well as limitless global usage should be easy.
The third key feature, that is getting more and more important, is cyber security of the solution. Shipping companies and vessels are extremely networked Enterprises. There are a lot of sub contractors, suppliers and partners in the networks and it's very important that the whole ecosystem is using certified and secure cyber security tools for operations to prevent possible digital break-ins and leaks of business critical information.
By customers’ experiences, for maritime industry the reliability with demanding connectivity is the real deal breaker. Next most important factors are simplicity of use, scalability to all vessels, and as a growing topic the cyber security of the solution. For offshore oil, gas, and energy cyber security is naturally just as important as reliability”. Dr. Krassi sums up: “The three key feature you should evaluate in professional remote collaboration solution are security, reliability and scalability”.
Delta Cygni Labs Ltd is SeaFocus Developing Partner
Photo Credits: Delta Cygni Labs