Simulation in maritime

Maritime training simulators are becoming increasingly powerful and ubiquitous, but new research reveals that the industry may not yet be using them to their...

Maritime training simulators are becoming increasingly powerful and ubiquitous, but new research reveals that the industry may not yet be using them to their full potential. 

A published research paper – Deep learning elements in maritime simulation programmes – has suggested that the pedagogical (teaching) potential of maritime simulation is still only emerging, with its use, currently, confined to repetitive practice-based tasks focused on human errors and responses, rather than the wider principles of higher education that they could serve, such as self-regulated, inquiry-based, shared, and applied learning.  

The paper cites a broad investigative assessment of bridge simulation training – involving 115 students, ranging from cadets to experienced pilots – held during training sessions at a maritime institute located at a UK university. The study points out that, in general, the pedagogical characteristics of maritime simulation tend to be particularly complex because maritime programmes have to combine cognitive and behavioural features of training, and must comply with the industry’s Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) regulations. However, it goes on to recommend that the maritime sector should now start adopting clearer learning goals and outcomes for simulator sessions, an expansion of academic simulator goals, and the inclusion of much more challenging tasks. 

High fidelity  

The maritime industry has, in recent years, started to use a wide variety of simulators to train students in specific scenarios, such as bridge operations, cargo handling, dynamic positioning, rescue operations, and vessel traffic service (VTS). 

Desktop computers pre-loaded with simulation software offer institutes and students an affordable way of replicating some aspects of maritime operations with fairly low fidelity. However, the industry’s preferred simulator type for addressing regulatory and workplace learning, training and competency requirements are higher fidelity on-site ‘full-mission’ systems able to offer realistic renderings of a maritime work environment, with detailed replications of all essential displays and instrumentations.  

The advent of the latest development in this area – the ‘virtual reality (VR) simulator’ can immerse students and users completely in an often stunningly realistic experience of a work environment, using wearable head-mounted displays (HMDs). VR simulators are also capable of allowing multiple users to train or cooperate together within the same scenario on similar, or even entirely different, types of ships, from anywhere in the world.  

Game changer 

The latest state-of-the-art maritime simulator facility, which could play a critical role in offshore renewable energy, recently opened at the University of Plymouth in the UK. 

The Maritime Simulation Laboratory brings together a network of high-tech components that can be used to run a series of maritime scenarios in real time. 

At its heart is a Kongsberg K-Sim Dynamic Positioning simulator, which will be used to test and optimise marine operations throughout the lifecycle of floating offshore wind (FLOW) installations, allowing teams to test and optimise installation and maintenance projects. 

“This simulator is a genuine game changer across a number of critically and globally important sectors,” explains Professor Kevin Jones, executive dean of science and engineering at the university, and a member of the IMarEST’s Maritime Cyber Risk Management Special Interest Group

“We now have unrivalled capabilities to assess how individual devices and collective infrastructure will respond to unique ocean conditions. However, beyond that, and in tandem with our existing facilities, we now have the power to both predict and overcome a number of key challenges facing these sectors. It means that now, more than ever, we can play a crucial role in advancing marine and maritime innovation.” 

kevin jones landscape online

Prof Professor Kevin Jones FIMarEST FIET FBCS CEng CSci CITP is Executive Dean of Science and Engineering at the University of Plymouth

It's hoped that the simulator will provide applications right across the marine sector, including craft design, marine autonomy, clean maritime, and maritime infrastructure. 

The Maritime Simulation Laboratory is able to accurately model any maritime area in the world – including terrain data, tides and currents, wind, sea state, and even precipitation and ice – allowing technicians to create craft that appear realistic and exhibit highly accurate hydrodynamic and aerodynamic functionality. External digitised maritime objects – such as buoys, cables and docks can also be generated in order to interact with the required simulated environment, and with each other. 

The new facility, the university says, will complement other cutting-edge facilities it already uses for research and teaching, including a ship simulator, and be able to recreate the environment of a maritime vessel navigating the ocean. It will also link up with the Cyber-SHIP Lab, also based at the University of Plymouth, which is the UK’s only hardware-based maritime cyber security research and development platform. 

Decarbonisation design 

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) classification society, meanwhile, has just launched a new service using sophisticated modelling and simulation technologies to assess the impact of a range of vessel decarbonisation technologies at the design stage. 

The simulation-based Energy Efficiency Evaluation Service will, ABS says, allow naval architects working on both new build and existing vessels to compare different design and operational options and then evaluate the performance impact of adding new technologies. 

To support the work, ABS has opened simulation centres in Singapore, Houston and Athens. It has also now teamed up with Hudong–Zhonghua Shipbuilding and Wärtsilä to use its advanced simulation facilities to support the development of a flexible, future-ready and modular concept for a multi-fuel electric Liquefied Natural Gas Carrier (LNGC) vessel. 

Digital twins 

The development of simulated ‘digital twins’ is also continuing to gather pace in the maritime sector, as an increasingly vital and effective solution-busting tool. 

Digital twins are, in essence, computerised virtual models created to accurately reflect comprehensive details of an existing asset, such as a ship or offshore platform. The asset itself is fitted with a multitude of sensors able to produce performance data that is relayed back to a processing system and then immediately applied to the digital model.  

The digital twins can then be used to run simulations, study performance and generate potential improvements that can then be applied back to the physical asset.  

However, digital twins remain costly as they require integration with analytical software and a powerful user interface. For this reason, they still tend to only be employed for the most critical and expensive of maritime assets. 

Did you miss Prof Kevin Jones’ presentation on Securing our Ships in a Cyber World to the Naval Engineering Special Interest Group (NESIG) in 2021? Catch up on IMarEST TV  (members-only). 


Dennis O’Neill is a freelance journalist specialising in maritime.