Good situation awareness – the cornerstone of remote pilotage

Good situation awareness is a critical part of navigational safety. It is also an essential element in remote pilotage: the ISTLAB enables research relating to the maintenance of situation awareness in remote pilotage, thus contributing to the development of the entire field.

A user’s situation awareness is critical to safety in all socio-technical systems. Driving a car is a simple socio-technical system, where the driver’s ability to retain the correct picture of the environment and of the working of the vehicle is essential from the point of view of safety. The same observation skills – perception of the environment and retaining the correct situational picture – are also required in shipping: decisions made on the bridge are based on the ability to anticipate a situation, and on an understanding of the ship’s operation and environmental conditions.

It is often thought that a user’s situation awareness improves when he/she is given more information. However, this is not always the case. A user’s ability to take in real-time data is limited and if there is too much information, it can be difficult to distinguish the essential. Information overload can even increase the risk of accident. On the other hand, maintaining situation awareness requires sufficient and real-time data of drivable or controllable systems. From the point of view of safety, clarifying the quality and quantity of data is an interesting topic relating to the development of intelligent shipping. It is also one of the most important subjects of study for ISTLAB.

Retaining situation awareness – a challenge in remote pilotage

Manoeuvring a ship requires good anticipation skills, since for example the vessel does not come to an immediate halt at the twist of the wrist. In a piloting situation the ship has at its disposal a valuable additional resource to assist in navigation and in the safe manoeuvring of the ship into and out of port. The pilot must also have the ability to maintain the correct situational picture in order to succeed in his/her task.

The fundamental issue in carrying out remote pilotage is, how to maintain the situation awareness of a pilot operating remotely from the pilot station so that safe pilotage can be assured. A necessary requirement of safe remote pilotage is that the pilot has a clear understanding of the ship’s state of movement and the operation of the ship’s steering equipment. It is also essential that he/she is aware of the prevailing environmental conditions and the traffic in the area. From the point of view of safe pilotage, it is also important to have an understanding of what is happening on the bridge.

For successful pilotage, the bridge personnel should also be fully aware of events and be able to communicate clearly and safely with the remote pilot. In other words, remote pilotage requires sufficiently complete data collection, reliable real-time data exchange, smooth communication, and the ability to make decisions and act as the situation demands. A great deal more research, development, testing, training, and standardisation will be required before a new working culture such as this can be fully adopted.

ISTLAB – a tool in the development of remote pilotage

The ISTLAB laboratory is a unique research and development environment for the new intelligent shipping technologies. The strength of the simulator is the possibility to easily vary the different factors relating to the technology under research. In the case of remote pilotage these are for example the quality and quantity of data to be transferred from vessel to remote pilotage station, presentation of data to the remote pilotage station, weather conditions, and traffic situation. The ISTLAB environment enables different exceptional situations such as communication errors, defects in devices, delays and disturbances to be researched safely.

This research helps us get a better understanding of what type of communication is needed between the remote pilot and the vessel in order to achieve safe pilotage. One area for development and testing is to clarify which standards relating to communication and processes are to be improved for remote pilotage, to minimise the risk of misunderstandings and malfunctions.

ISTLAB is an excellent environment for the research and development of situation awareness maintenance, of safe processes and of standards in remote pilotage. Satakunta University of Applied Sciences (SAMK) has gathered several excellent cooperation partners to be involved in developing the laboratory. The basis of it all is the genuine need in the shipping industry to take advantage of the opportunities offered by remote pilotage for improving the efficiency and safety of shipping transport.

Sauli Ahvenjärvi stands front of simulations screens.

The author of this newsletter, Sauli Ahvenjärvi, PhD in ship automation, is also one of the founders of the ISTLAB project. He worked as a Principal Lecturer at SAMK and as Content Director of the ISTLAB project until autumn last year. He now continues as part-time special adviser in the project.

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