Awareness System – Accuracy and reliability through technological fusion

We at Groke Technologies would like to provide a better understanding of our Awareness System (AS) and how it is being designed to help mariners navigate busy waterways by providing them with an accurate and reliable understanding of the seas through which they sail. Mikko Mäkelä-Vaitilo, Head of Products at Groke Technologies, describes some of the issues faced by mariners.

“When waters are crowded and congested, watchkeeping is stressful for crews,” Mäkelä-Vaitilo explains. “They have the windows to look out of, and then they have the radar and the AIS (Automated Identification System). They must keep an eye on all these systems and try to figure out how they are all associated. What are the objects I see on the screen? Where are they in the real world? The delay can be around 20 seconds, so it naturally adds complexity.”

The issue is that watch-keepers can find it difficult to correlate the things they are physically seeing with the instruments providing data on the bridge. That difficulty increases when visibility is low, e.g., at night, and when there are large numbers of smaller fishing vessels that may not use running lights. This is a situation regularly faced by bridge crews navigating Japanese waters.

“It is hard to predict what they are going to do,” Mäkelä-Vaitilo explains. “I think the most difficult aspect (of navigating in such situations) is the cognitive stress placed on bridge crews. You need to be constantly aware of your surroundings, trying to crosscheck different systems.”

This is one of the issues that the AS was designed to solve.

Mäkelä-Vaitilo describes the system as, “a solution that presents intuitive and understandable views of a vessel’s surroundings by combining information from multiple sensor sources.”

In other words, the system takes inputs from different sensors and combines them into one easy-to-understand view. However, he points out that the Awareness System is designed to enhance current systems rather than supplant them.

“Our system is not going to replace any existing system; we are giving crews one more tool to use. We are providing a combined input – enhanced by augmented reality technologies – to reduce stress on the crew by improving visibility of their surroundings. Actual images from the cameras are used to highlight where other vessels are moving on the sea. We also utilize infrared cameras, and that ensures better visibility at night as well.”

Mäkelä-Vaitilo says that all the technologies harnessed in the awareness system are equally integral to the system.

“Machine vision is umbrella term for everything we do to understand what is happening in the image data. We are using a machine-learning model, a so-called neural network, in our system. It allows us to input an image and obtain an output that shows where there are objects and what they probably are. But the cameras are only one sensor in the system. They have weaknesses too. We have other sensors as well, and all the sensors have their own weaknesses and small delays. But by putting them all together, we aim to provide the best and most reliable truth out there.”

The Awareness System is not the end goal; it is but the first step on a longer journey.

“In order to automate things, you first need the eyes and other senses to understand what is happening in your surroundings. Next is the brain, and there we will be looking into actions taken in different situations. In the future, we are looking at providing guidance for the crew on how to respond to and what kind of options they have in different challenging situations.”

Through the fusion of technologies offered by the Awareness System, Groke Technologies’ ultimate goal at this stage is to provide crews with the most accurate and reliable understanding of their surroundings.

In the case of the Groke Technologies Awareness System, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

Article published originally in Groke’s exclusive customer newsletter in February 2021

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