With all the talk about developing autonomous ships, it is easy to forget that bridge connectivity will first aid manned ships.
Some in the maritime sector, Yara and Svitzer for example, are investing in developing and researching autonomous and remote control vessels. The first commercial autonomous ship is expected to enter service in 2021.
But the vast majority of ships will remain manned, so the focus must be maintained on improving navigation through developing better bridge systems and their connectivity.
Equipment manufacturers outlined their latest technology at the SMM exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, last week, with the resounding trends being better connectivity and improved human-machine interfaces.
Connectivity does not just mean an integrated system. Increasingly it includes connecting bridge systems through a ship’s satellite communications to a manufacturers’ portal. This was presented by bridge system providers, such as Furuno, and is being considered by suppliers, including Sperry Marine, Kongsberg and Wärtsilä, to name a few.
Cyber security implications must be considered when connecting vital ship navigation equipment to online services. It would take only one cyber threat to evade security to affect navigation systems, such as radar or ECDIS.
But, connecting these systems to a manufacturer’s portal could improve navigational safety.
I believe if the connection can be kept secure then manufacturers will be able to remotely monitor bridge systems’ condition and performance over satellite communications. They could identify any issues with bridge equipment, or even monitor the performance of navigators and provide feedback to managers.
They can diagnose problems and transmit software updates and patches over a secure satellite link, through a reception device and into the equipment computers.
These expectations were presented to me during my interviews at the SMM exhibition. Manufacturers have valid arguments for investing in bridge system connectivity that will help bridge teams on manned ships navigate more effectively.
But they must ensure that these do not compromise the security of vital navigation systems nor prevent equipment from working properly.
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