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The need for better situational awareness around ships

Many people around the world are drawn to the sea, whether for professional commitments or recreational pursuits. For some, it’s about the thrill of sailing or the peace of fishing, while for others, it’s a means to earn their livelihood. The maritime sector, in this context, plays a pivotal role. It’s not just about transporting goods across the globe but also providing countless job opportunities. With the surge in recreational sailing & fishing post the Covid pandemic, certain areas have experienced increased ship density. Regrettably, with this upswing, there have also been serious accidents, primarily attributed to human errors in situational assessment.

The shortcomings of current radar systems and radar trackers

Radar systems have long been considered the eyes and ears of a ship. First invented in 1904, radars initially found their purpose in military applications, scanning vast expanses of air and sea for potential threats. As time progressed, the value of radar wasn’t confined to military uses alone. The maritime world began to recognize the pivotal role radar could play in enhancing a ship’s observability over great distances. Consequently, many sea and inland transport vessels adopted these technologies, fortifying their navigation and safety capabilities. Today, consumer-grade radars like Simrad are not only becoming more advanced but also increasingly affordable.

Yet, while technology has evolved, a challenge remains: operability. Using a radar system, especially the advanced ones tailored for the professional maritime sector, is not always straightforward. For many, specialized training is essential to harness the full potential of these systems.

A filtered radar image from a river radar.

When we look at a radar screen, a lot happens in our brain to extract the right information; 

  • Recognizing harbors, buoys, ships, or ship wakes.
  • Distinguishing between moving objects and clutter from radar echoes.
  • Estimating the size and velocity of traveling ships
  • Estimating the intention of the other vessels 

Recognizing these challenges, manufacturers have integrated software into radars called radar trackers to make interpretation of the radar visualization easier to understand. These systems assess clumps of pixels over time and filter the signal based on their evolution. Through this method, static objects like harbors can be differentiated from moving entities, whether they’re cargo ships or birds, using the observed pixel velocity.

However, despite these advancements, existing radar systems fall short of offering a solution with the same level of situational awareness that a human possesses. Classical radar tracking, with its focus largely on locations and velocities, often loses sight of ships, struggling particularly in cluttered inland waters. The situation is further exacerbated by noisy signals, especially prevalent in harbors and inland rivers with high ship density. So, what does it genuinely take to match human intuition and judgment? What elements define comprehensive situational awareness?

To improve situational awareness the requirements are multifaceted:

Accurate Ship Location: It begins with pinpointing other ships and obstacles, ensuring their precise locations are identified.

Course, Heading, and Velocities: Beyond mere locations, predictions about future ship positions are crucial. This predictive approach mirrors human instincts when walking or driving. Data such as Vessel’s Course Over Ground (COG), Speed Over Ground (SOG), and heading becomes invaluable.

Ship Dimensions: Whether you’re navigating around a massive cruise ship or a nimble tugboat, understanding their sizes and anticipated maneuverability is key.

Tracking Occluded Ships: Ships must be constantly monitored, ensuring they never vanish off the radar. Similarly, false radar blips should never be mistaken for real vessels.

Real-time Updates: The maritime scene is in perpetual flux. Even with comprehensive data, it remains relevant for only a brief window. Autonomous systems must receive constant updates to adapt to the unpredictable nature of sea travel.

The challenge with humans interpreting radar data is that it frequently takes place during the very moments when they are most susceptible to fatigue, such as at night and during adverse weather conditions like fog and rain. Recognizing this, it becomes evident that the captain would benefit greatly from having a digital assistant, ever-alert and precise. An extra set of eyes and ears could prove invaluable during these critical times. Enter Captain AI Radar Tracker.

Introducing the Captain AI Radar Tracker

At Captain AI, we realized the untapped potential of radars for situational awareness. By bringing the latest Artificial Intelligence technology for image processing to radar a rich map of information around the ship can be extracted and presented to the maritime operator in an intuitive way. 

With state of the art video analysis techniques, we can analyze these radars like humans and give semantic meaning to what we see: cluster signals together if it seems like they represent a single ship, and analyze them over time to determine what the most likely shape, direction and velocity of the ship is. Plotted on marine radar images, it looks like this:

By analyzing the individual reflections of the radar, we can deduce the size and motion of ships. If we put this on a map, it gives even more semantic meaning:

The radar view from the perspective of the ego vessel

The detections and tracks of vessel plotted on a map (pointing North)

With this technology, we get a clear picture of the marine traffic around the vessel and recognize maneuvers in the motion of the ships, giving indications of the intentions of the other ships around the ego vessel.

A ship turning North. Current radar trackers can not follow the rotation of a vessel smoothly. Captain AI Radar Tracker however can.

A ship passes under a bridge. Current radar trackers often loose track due to the occlusion. Captain AI Radar Tracker can handle the occlusion.

A small boat passes between 2 bigger ships. Current radar trackers often loose track due to the occlusion. Captain AI Radar Tracker can handle the occlusion.

Captain AI Radar Tracker sets itself apart by its advanced motion analysis capabilities. By meticulously studying the movements of ships, it can track them with precision in situations where conventional radar systems fail. Whether it’s because of noise or obstructions like bridges, our radar tracker offers a reliable solution when others might lose sight.

Captain AI Radar Tracker offers all necessary information for situational awareness

In short, the Captain AI Radar tracker can provide frequent, reliable information about the ship locations, directions and size enhancing situational awareness for the maritime operator.

Captain AI Radar Tracker integrates with existing radars 

To put the next generation of situational awareness in the hands of thousands of maritime operators, Captain AI provides an easy to install, small and low cost yet powerful computer with the Captain AI Radar Tracker software installed. 

Captain AI Radar Tracker computer

Captain AI Radar Tracker integrates with most radars and ECDIS viewers and is straightforward to set up. The Radar Tracker is also outfitted with collision warning software, and will be upgraded with collision avoidance and ultimately autonomous sailing software in the near future.

Get in contact now to learn how you can integrate Captain AI Radar Tracker on your ship!