Raising the bar for bridge and navigation solutions
The Naval Architect: March 2019
Naturally, such equipment requires more space than simply the consoles with which the bridge team directly interacts.
However, with advances in computing, the bridge is becoming more spacious and flexible than it was in the past, particularly for higher end vessels. In tandem with this is the growing requirement for fully digitised bridge solutions that not only make navigational information available from anywhere on the vessel but also relay that data back to shore.
One of the established players in this field is Northrup Grumman-owned navigation solutions provider Sperry Marine, which last year launched its new networked bridge concept: VisionMaster Net. Building upon the same interface as its earlier VisionMaster FT solution, VisionMaster Net is designed as a modular network that utilises an ethernet ring for all bridge system sensors, including the radar transceiver.
According to James Collett, Sperry’s managing director, the shift from analogue to digital brings enormous benefits, particularly for radar. He explains: “It means you can move your radar picture anywhere on the vessel, which from an installation standpoint makes it much simpler.
This will also empower the shoreside team to provide greater assistance should a problem occur, as the master can more effectively relay what is happening. Collett says: “we’re giving them a whole bridge of information; whether it’s speed, heading, radar or chart picture.”
Increasingly, Collett points out, Sperry’s clients have a whole team of shoreside ‘captains’ supporting remote operations and while oceangoing vessel autonomy remains several years off, remote assistance is well underway, with tools such as VisionMaster Net becoming key building blocks.
“Until now the bridge was separated from the rest of the ship’s operation and, with good reason, there remains a level of paranoia about attaching that bridge to the rest of the outside world.”
In collaboration with its parent company Northrop Grummann, Sperry recently launched the Secure Maritime Gateway, a cybersecurity tool which uses multiple firewalls and ‘demilitarised zone’ between the front and back of bridge to ensure there is no direct connection between the navigation systems and the main ship network.
One of the drivers behind this vigilance is that while commercial sector accounts for around three quarters of Sperry’s business, the other quarter comes from UK defence programmes.
Inevitably, the security demands are particularly high, but Collett says that, if anything, the protracted nature of government procurement means defence hardware seldom uses the latest software.
Solid state radar
One product which is heavily indebted to Sperry’s naval heritage is Seaguard, a high-resolution radar system which originated as a naval surveillance tool and officially launched in January.
“It’s basically a solid-state radar and highly accurate so it can identify individual targets when they’re moving,” says Collett. “Cruise operators are interested in it because of its ability to find people in the water. But we see other applications, perhaps for ice detection on the Northern Sea Route where vessels have to go through ice-packed waters.”