A sizeable number of apps have been developed for the maritime industry, with functions ranging from checklists that help with international convention requirements to TripAdvsor type apps that inform sailors about facilities in marinas. However, few apps are available to support professional commercial navigation.
According to i3magazine.net, one reason for this lies in the existing regulatory paradigm for bridge equipment. The current regime, which drives the development and implementation of systems used on the bridges of ships sailing under those regulations, requires manufacturers to attain full type approval for their systems, as well as additional certification before being approved for operational use.
This certification is necessary to ensure that solutions are safe, but also slows down development work. As a result, many systems now installed on bridges are based on system architecture from up to two decades ago.
While the maritime industry has been trending towards integrated systems within recent years, it is still far from a complete integration.
“In new Integrated Navigation Systems (INS), you find displays allowing you to switch between different modes, say, from a radar to an ECDIS display. But even that is just a case of different systems sharing a display rather than being truly integrated,” says Michael Bergmann, esident of Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM)
There clearly is a demand from the industry for a new approach to e-Navigation solutions that, according to Simon Pelletier, president of the International Marine Pilot’s Association, hasn’t been met. The lack of functionality within the current suite of ECDIS software has encouraged pilots to look for solutions in Portable Pilot Units (PPUs), essentially laptops running navigational support software.
“We pilots need more than just ECDIS. That’s why we take our PPUs on board. They provide us with data on shoals and water levels in real time. If there is a shoal in in the channel an hour after a survey is conducted, we receive the information superimposed on our chart. This is valuable information for us that ECDIS just doesn’t provide.”
In addition to functionality benefits, the cost of app development should also be considered.
Geir Ståle Tennfjord, product manager at Vard, says “at the moment, there’s a big focus on cost reduction, and application development is very pricy. To share applications across different ships and suppliers and reduce the integration cost would be very useful to that end.”
Tennfjord also hints at the potential of a maritime app store – a portal where different suppliers offer new information and navigation systems.
“ I think users don’t ask for this because they don’t think it’s possible. But if we make it possible, I think it will be a success. Of course, the industry will have to collaborate and also focus on safety and security, but in turn the platform will open up for creativity, new information, services and applications.”
The future of navigational apps
The benefits that the app concept could bring to users are only limited by the developer’s creativity. Since they tend to be easy to use, apps could even play a supporting role in navigational training, says Alexey Pirozhnikov, director of software engineering and marine technology services at Jeppesen.
“More and more focus is put on the usability of applications, which is also an important aspect of e-Navigation. Lightweight and easy-to-use apps not only solve tasks efficiently, but also help to save on staff training and familiarization.”
A vital aspect of e-Navigation, according to Pirozhnikov, is how to deliver the intelligence within the information.
“A user needs specific data to carry out a particular task. Weather data, for example, is important on a general basis. However, when the same data is used in tasks like route optimization and fleet performance analysis, it can boost the performance of a mariner, a vessel or an entire fleet.”
Pirozhnikov predicts that in the future, e-Navigation will focus more on applications and services relying on extensive data exchange.
“The integration of bridge systems along with faster data rates and a growing number of sensors will increase onboard connectivity. In ship-shore connectivity, higher bandwidth channels will allow for more extensive data exchange, which in turn will improve ship and fleet logistics as well as real-time voyage optimization. As a result, increased real-time data will help to improve operations.”
To take full advantage of the app concept in the maritime environment, its type-approval concept needs to be revisited. The certification of hardware and parent applications, along with methods to ensure necessary encapsulation routines, may allow a new level of type approval focused on specific apps rather than full systems