Industrial Internet of Things in the Maritime Industry

 Industrial Internet of Things in the Maritime Industry

Report from the IoT @ Sea testbed in the Oslo Fjord, January 2015.

In the recent report issued by the World Economic Forum in January 2015, “Industrial Internet of Things: Unleashing the Potential of Connected Products and Services,” we read about the emergence of hybrid industries as a result of the Internet of Things (IoT);

In time, the Industrial Internet will blur industry boundaries or give rise to new hybrid industries.


Intermodal transportation networks are one example of these new, hybrid industries, encompassing the maritime industry as an integral part of such a global network. These hybrid industries will require a new breed of engineers and specialists where domain-specific software engineering will play a crucial role.

Transportation has already been very active in the Internet of Things development, with transportation and logistics companies being some of the first to adopt IoT in their daily business. The transformative power of IoT has already made an impact on the traditionally conservative maritime industry. In fact, maritime has an advantage over many other industries when it comes to IoT implementation and adoption. For decades, ships have been carrying a multitude of sensors onboard, collecting data that, until recently, has not been utilized and analyzed to optimize the maritime operations. The Industrial IoT may be as disruptive for maritime as the steam engine or the introduction of cargo containers were in the past. Accelerated by open source software, wireless, and mobile technologies, the adoption of IoT by the maritime industry has already began.

IoT and Open Source Onboard

“It's not the iPad itself that is most important. It's the app,” explains Captain Torleif Bakken of Bastø Fosen ferries onboard the ferry in the Horten-Moss Strait in the Oslo Fjord, the most trafficked strait in the whole of Norway.

The app, called "REX", which stands for Route Exchange, runs on top of the Open Bridge Platform (OBP), an innovation platform based on open source software including MARSSA and the “Maritime Cloud” communication framework, another open source artifact. REX reads ship's onboard sensors and provides real-time information to the captain and his colleagues operating the other ferries in the fleet, as well as a land-based sea traffic coordination center. It supports collaborative decision making amongst the key stakeholders involved to achieve safer, more efficient, and environmentally friendly maritime operations. OBP was designed by domain-specific marine software engineers in close collaboration with captains and crews to address their every day pain points.

The app shows a map with all ships carrying the IoT-enabled OBP onboard.The app shows a map with all ships carrying the IoT-enabled OBP onboard. The idea is for seafarers to be able to show their intentions to the other sea-space users and onshore vessel traffic services centers to prevent potential collisions. Today, such intentions can only be communicated verbally via the VHF (very high frequency radio) which is subject to human errors. REX shares real-time route intentions, using dynamic ETA to display where ships will be at any given moment. A user friendly drag-and-drop IoT interface informs the captains about potential collision courses and suggests safe passages. Capt. Torleif Bakken commented, “This I believe in! It's so simple to use!” The first results from the IoT @ Sea testbed in the Oslo Fjord point in the direction of expected fuel savings up to 15% per year, directly translating into financial and environmental benefits.

REX is based on an open standard for route exchange developed as part of MONALISA 2.0, a major EU project developing sea traffic management with the ambitious aim to bring shipping into the digital age based on lessons learned in its sister domain of aviation. The OBP platform and REX both use open source components and run on Linux mini-computers onboard ships and onshore servers, while captains communicate via an app on a mobile device of their choice. In the future, this solution will be integrated in the ship's bridge electronic equipment.

The IoT @ Sea testbed in the Oslo Fjord has been implemented in close cooperation with the Bastø Fosen ferry company and their captain and safety advisor, Capt. Gisle Stava. Capt. Stava believes that this will become a very important tool: “It's like it was when the radar was first introduced. Skepticism at first, but now we cannot live without it. It is indispensable!” says Capt. Stava.

There is heavy traffic in the Oslo FjordThere is heavy traffic in the Oslo Fjord with northbound and southbound traffic going simultaneously with Bastø Fosen ferries crossing eight times an hour. “Knowing each ships' intentions, we can optimize our speed and avoid unnecessary, long re-routing,”Capt. Stava commented.” Once all ships are able to communicate and exchange their routes, all captains will always see and know what the others are planning. “Sea traffic rules apply here. If there is a potential conflict with the risk of a collision and my ship has right of way, I, as a captain, can change course with "drag-and-drop" on the screen. As soon as I confirm my selection, the captains on the other ships will see the new course and see the danger is over,” says Stava.

Short and Long-Term Planning

Bastø Fosen pre-programmed all the standard sea routes that its ferries follow, which vary depending on a number of factors such as season, sea, wind, and wave conditions. “Passenger safety and comfort is top priority. This is very useful in real-time and at short planning. But it can also be useful for a ship that will plan the journey and optimal speed days ahead,” says Capt. Stava.

The captains and operators can see which options provide voyage without any danger of colliding with other ships and they can plan in terms of "slot times" to disembark and embark in busy harbors. When routes are added into REX, each ship's technical profile is shared with it. The IoT system “knows” exactly how long the five different ferries take to accelerate and decelerate,and it varies from ferry to ferry. With REX and OBP, it only takes about three minutes to enter the required data.

Human Communication = Human Errors

Captain Bakken is standing on the bridge of Bastø II and notices Bastø III coming towards him. He grabs the VHF radio and calls up Bastø III. He gets a verbal confirmation that Bastø III will pass him on the southern side. Capt. Bakken explains,“If Bastø III had their REX app running just now, I would not have had to call him up. Then I would simply have glanced at my screen and noticed that he had plotted the southern route.” Capt. Stava goes on to say, “VHF is useful, but it is also problematic. There are many examples of misunderstandings in communication caused by different languages, dialects, and even about which ship are you actually talking to, which has led to dangerous situations and collisions.”

According to Capt. Stava, once these IoT solutions have been installed onboard, most, if not all, ships sailing in the Oslo Fjord“will see the benefits in a larger perspective and on a larger scale.”

User-Driven Innovation and DD3 (Develop and Deploy in 3 months)

Close collaboration between end-users and marine software engineers is cricial to realizing the benefits of IoT at Sea. “We feel like kids in a candy store. We tell them what new functions we want and we have it almost immediately!“ laughs Capt. Stava.

“There are several functions here that we can thank Capt. Gisle and his colleagues for. It is essential to develop the system with end-users in mind. They are those who fully understand their needs and pain points”, says a marine software engineer working on the OBP development team.

Open source makes it possible to develop and deploy new functionality in under three months. This is much faster than the current state of practice in the maritime electronics industry.

“We do not want to get entangled in too large and heavy 'fat-ware' solutions, and it is faster and easier to make changes when compared to fully proprietary solutions. But the earlier we involve the end-users in the planning, the better,” says Geir Fagerhus, President and CEO of MARSEC, and Capt. Stava nods.

OBP as an innovation platform allows for a multitude of IoT solutions to be integrated. REX is built in such a way that it can display different information to different users on different layers, thus enabling improved common situational awareness and increased safety at sea. For example, during the winter season, a shore-based, high-definition radar can be used for detecting ice floe in the fjord and the radar image can be shared with other ships sailing through the “frozen” waters as a layer in the app. In the summer, on the other hand, it is crucial to see the yacht traffic in the fog. “It is important to get exactly the right information you need at the given point in time, in order to make informed decisions,” says Capt. Stava.

Based on these promising testbed results, there is a strong believe that IoT-enabled solutions can build an improved global system for sea traffic management and, furthermore, a smart intermodal transportation system. All today's ships are already packed with equipment and sensors collecting valuable data and information. But without a common standard and platform for the transfer and exchange of that data, it will be difficult to stitch together a comprehensive, seamless global network. By collaborating on common standards , we can connect and simplify many solutions in the maritime industry. And the Internet of Things, powered by open source components, can greatly enhance the efficiency and safety of maritime transportation.

Find Out More About the Internet of Things

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