Situational Awareness System Battles Cognitive Fatigue in Watchkeepers

April 26, 2024

Image courtesy Groke Technologies
Image courtesy Groke Technologies
Juha Rokka, CEO and co-founder, Groke Technologies
Juha Rokka, CEO and co-founder, Groke Technologies

Today’s evolving maritime security risks pose all-too-familiar threats to international shipping, and as just one of the many causes of fatigue, they add to the cognitive burden already faced by watchkeepers. But Groke Technologies can boost safety onboard, says co-founder and CEO Juha Rokka.

Life at sea is already physically and mentally demanding. Crewing levels are tight, work hours are long and irregular, watchkeepers are required to perform administrative tasks while on the bridge, port turnaround times are short, and there’s more technology onboard to master.

Watchkeepers can find it difficult to correlate the things they are physically seeing with the instruments providing data on the bridge. They need to be constantly crosschecking data from different systems to understand the objects they see on the screen and how they correlate with where they are in the real world? It can take around 20 seconds for bridge systems to update, and this naturally adds to the complexity of the thought processes required of a watchkeeper.

The challenges increase when visibility is low or when there are large numbers of small vessels around. It is hard to predict what these vessels are going to do, and this racks up cognitive stress levels.

Greater Awareness

Groke Technologies was established to give watchkeepers unrivalled awareness of their vessel’s surroundings with the aim of improving safety and wellbeing onboard.

Our product Groke Pro is based on unique AI based sensor fusion technology which combines information from a 225-degree visual camera with a specially-developed 180-degree infrared camera, as well as radar and AIS. An inbuilt inertial measurement unit collects data on pitch, roll, and yaw, and a high-precision GNSS provides positioning data. The resulting informative display allows watchkeepers to detect any navigational hazards and objects in real time.

A unique blending function combines images from day and night cameras. The result is a clear view of the vessel surroundings even during night-time operations or other low-visibility situations such as fog, heavy rain or highly reflective situations. Even under these conditions, for example, the colour of navigation lights and surrounding objects can still be clearly shown.

All the objects detected by the computer vision system, including non-AIS vessels and sea marks, can be projected on to electronic charts. Additionally, real-time risk analysis functionality provides an intuitive risk compass, closest point of approach alarms and relative velocity tracking.
By bringing all this together, we aim to provide the best and most reliable depiction of reality possible. The information is available via an easy-to-read visual display on a tablet, so it can be viewed from anywhere on the ship not just the bridge.

Six Japanese companies have now invested in Groke Technologies: Mitsubishi Corporation, Japan’s largest trading house and a partner since our founding in 2019; Sumitomo Mitsui Finance and Leasing; tanker operators Uyeno Transtech, Tsurumi Sunmarine and Asahi Tanker; and, most recently, tugboat operator Tokyo Kisen. Oldendorff Carriers, one of the world’s leading dry bulk owners and operators, has also joined us.

Image courtesy Groke Technologies

Machine Vision

Groke Pro is the first machine vision solution to obtain Innovation Endorsement for Products and Solutions from Japanese classification society ClassNK. This is a timely achievement. With increasing use of digital shipping technology, combined with a global shortage of experienced officers and crew, we anticipate that integrated ship situational awareness technology will be a mandatory requirement from the IMO by 2030. Before that will come class notations and voluntary IMO guidance, probably by 2026.

Groke Pro has an extensive reference list from Japanese shipping companies, including K Line and U-Ming Marine, and as well as our headquarters in Turku, we have established a Japanese office. We now have over 20 employees supporting new and existing clients in Asia and Europe.

It takes less than a day to install the system which consists of a sensor unit that is mounted on top of a ship’s bridge, and a system cabinet installed inside the bridge.

We have more installations contracted for 2024, including return customers looking to roll out Groke Pro across their fleet. We see demand continuing to grow from both domestic and international shipowners, and we are also seeing interest from insurance companies. In high-risk situations, a recording of images is automatically triggered, so Groke Pro provides an irrefutable evidence trail that could ease the investigative work required for concluding claims.

It can also help shipping companies with professional development material, helping them apply lessons learned across the crews in their fleet. We are also providing cloud connectivity for the system so that shoreside managers can gain a real-time view of the challenges faced by their watchkeepers at sea. In the future, we are planning to build guidance into the system so watchkeepers can more easily assess the options they have for responding to challenging situations.

Groke Pro was not designed to replace crew on board but to provide them with the best possible information to support their decision-making. With better decision-making comes improved safety. Improved safety in turn helps to increase crew welfare.

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