How OpenBridge seeks to improve maritime workplaces

by Prof. Kjetil Nordby Institute of Design - The Oslo School of Architecture and Design - published on 6 May 2020 494 -

Photos and text by Dr. Kjetil Nordby (Institute of Design - The Oslo School of Architecture and Design)

Lack of standard user interfaces across bridge equipment is a major concern for maritime safety. Pilots are in a unique position, as they are constantly exposed to new and differing bridge working environments, equipment, interface designs and combinations of systems. As pilots face this problem throughout every shift they need to put in considerable effort to adjust their work to the many user interfaces they meet.

One of the reasons for the lack of consistency problem is that current bridges on ships are often made up of a large number of systems delivered by multiple suppliers. This has led to cluttered, inconsistent workplaces that has shown to contribute to increased cognitive demands during operations which has led to human error and accidents. The problem of inconsistent console and use interface design is well known in maritime industry, but it has been difficult to solve the problem within current regulatory frameworks and typical maritime equipment development practices.

The OpenBridge concept
OpenBridge approaches this problem by applying an open innovation processes in an ongoing collaboration between governance-industry-academia stakeholders. A central component in this work is to create a maritime design system adapted to maritime use situations, modern design principles, new implementation strategies and regulations.
In short, the OpenBridge focuses on creating open source tools and guidelines that result in modern and usable user interfaces and reduced development cost. Our goal is to realize:

  • Safe and efficient workplaces with consistent design across all systems regardless of supplier
  • Efficient technical integration that will allow maritime systems to be installed on all OpenBridge compatible ships bridge systems
  • A component-based approval system that works within current regulations

  • The idea behind OpenBridge is that in many companies have products that need to work together with other products in a bridge and ship ecosystem. One major obstacle for harmonizing such equipment is a lack of a common design standard suitably adapted for modern digital user interfaces.Furthermore,development of such user interfaces are very expensive and resource intensive. One way of reducing development costs is to share development resources, such as user interface components. Thus, OpenBridge lays out a set of standard building blocks for maritime user interfaces that streamline development of generic functionality. This allows each product owner to focus on their core product offering instead of how to deliver their own version of standard user interface functionality, such as toggle buttons and navigation menus.

    Cross industry conformity of user interfaces has been a trend in many industries for many years. Although companies maintain their own palettes and logos, we see strong design patterns and formats are essentially standardized in mobile applications and business software. We argue that it is even more important to have common baseline design patterns in the maritime domain, since many of the systems are used in parallel and they are safety critical. We cannot afford to confuse users with the basic user interface design issues when solutions are readily available and only need to be implemented properly.

    Strong industry interest
    The OpenBridge development is driven by a large consortium consisting of 27 actors from industry, academia and regulatory authorities. It is developed through an iterative process where design guidelines are developed and tested in practice in conjunction with industry development and evaluated continually by experts and end users.

    Currently, we have released the first version of a guideline together with development tools meant to accelerate development. The first OpenBridge products are now beginning to be installed on ships and there are many companies within our project consortium now evaluating or working on OpenBridge solutions. We are seeing a strong interest from industry, particularly end users, ship owners and equipment manufacturers are interested in a more open approach to maritime workplace and equipment development. Since we launched the OpenBridge design guideline in March 2020 over 250 companies have registered for access to it.

    We do not know whether OpenBridge will be widely applied, but given the current interest, we are hopeful that the system will be a valuable resource for the maritime world that can lead to safer, more efficient workplaces. The value of OpenBridge increases with the number of companies adapting it and contributes to its further development. We encourage everybody to visit www.openbridge.no explore our design guideline and help contribute to open innovation and development.

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    Nilson Santos Santos Pilots, Brazil
    on 19 May 2020, 18:11 UTC

    Sooner or later they will listen to us. It is a matter of safety.

    René Hartung Lotsenbrüderschaft NOK II Kiel / Lübeck / Flensburg, Germany
    on 15 May 2020, 20:20 UTC

    Hi Louis Vest,

    in an ideal world ...

    I strongly agree with you, but unfortunately also on your last paragraph - who listens to those who have to use the equipment anyway?
    [show more]

    Louis Vest Houston Pilots, USA
    on 7 May 2020, 17:51 UTC

    I can't imagine a single standardized system that satisfy a majority of users. Happily, there is a way to maximize the benefits of connectivity for the greatest number of users and to do it in a cost effective safe manner.

    First, a little background. When pilots first began carrying their own laptop navigational equipment they designed their own systems that were unique to each port. They configured the software as the pilots in that group wanted and created a custom chart that accurately displayed port information. Pilots desperately wanted heading information and input from the AIS system and these were eventually supplied by a serial plug (heading) at first and later both heading and AIS by bluetooth sent directly to the pilot's laptop. Both sets of information were quickly programmed into our laptop systems. We even were able to add software for a small swing meter that could be used to calculated future position while turning. The actual AIS and gyro equipment were from different manufacturers, but the digital output was simple and standardized so that any pilot or other user could use the results.

    Now is a great time to take those baby steps and move to the next level. My suggestion is that bridge equipment like the AIS and gyro continue to provide standardized output and we add input from other bridge equipment - especially radar. The ability of a marine professional to come onboard and connect to a standardized radar output would eliminate all the problems that users face when trying to use different equipment on different ships. The pilot could come on board, connect to the radar via cable, bluetooth or wi-fi and be able to quickly set up a radar display to best serve his/her particular use. The pilot would be using his own display and software, which is intimately familiar, to choose the range, display orientation, range rings (or not), resolution, x or s band, cursor, brilliance, gain and the whole smorgasbord of settings without having to fumble through the controls of a radar that may or may not be familiar. This information could be preset, greatly reducing the time necessary for the pilot to begin duties safely. And, importantly, the crew could leave their display set to what was most useful to them.

    The radar could be then be displayed as an overlay on the chart that is already in the pilot's system with AIS. This combination is orders of magnitude more useful and safe than the current separate system(s).

    The best part is that it would not be necessary to design consoles and hardware systems from the ground up. The ships would benefit from having a navigational system that would take a regular display monitor and an off the shelf computer that will use software to integrate the inputs available on the bridge. A ship's officer could come on watch, choose his user name from the nav system drop down menu and instantly have his/her choice of display configuration available. When the captain came to the bridge he/she could sign in on another monitor and be instantly in a familiar setting. The mate or captain might want some engine data displayed that the pilot would not be interested in. No problem. The window labeled engine temp is left unchecked on the pilot's display.

    The most common error in a long pilotage is that at some point the quartermaster will go the wrong way on the rudder. It's an inevitable mistake when hundreds or even thousands of commands are given. Pilots are drilled to look at the rudder angle indicator or the helmsman's hands after every order, but it often happens that the pilot can't see the helmsman and the rudder indicator is in a position that makes it difficult to check (most often directly behind the conning station so the pilot has to swivel 180 degrees to check). Wouldn't it be a fine thing if we could eliminate this error almost totally? Add digital output from the rudder angle indicator to the available inputs. I would very quickly add that window to my display. And how long before someone figured out that voice recognition software could listen for rudder commands and sound an alarm when the quartermaster responded incorrectly?

    Lastly, equipment would be much less expensive and failure could be greatly reduced. The monitors and computer could be quickly exchanged for new units without having to exchange an entire console.

    I could go on and on about the usefulness of standardized digital output to standardized equipment using custom software, but my experience is that no one really listens to mariners very much. I expect the big name manufacturers will fight this tooth and nail. It's much more profitable to sell a radar console with all the bells and whistles (each company placing the bells and whistles in different places) than to sell a radar with digital output that could be used by a normal computer and monitor.

    But, hey, surprise me.
    [show more]

    Nilson Santos Santos Pilots, Brazil
    on 7 May 2020, 01:06 UTC

    Very much like the Commercial Aircraft Manufacturing, vessels should be classified in types or models.
    For example, Panamax Bulkcarriers are delivered in thousands. Why can´t they have the same standart bridge console? At least, the basics instruments.
    I believe, depend on the cooperation among shipowners, suppliers, users, coordanated by IMO/IMPA.


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