Thursday, June 28, 2018

Beyond charting : nautical information for the 21st century

Transit down the very congested lower Mississippi River on the M/V Ocean Wind

From ECO by John Nyberg, chief of NOAA's Marine Charting Division

NOAA Office of Coast Survey is the US national hydrographic office, meaning that it is the authoritative source for navigational charts, and related products, within US territorial waters.
Unlike most other national hydrographic offices, which charge for their products, Coast Survey provides the digital versions of these products for free.
This free supply of information has spawned a positive change in technology.

There are countless examples of how NOAA data is and could be used, ranging from ultra-precise data for captain- less vessels to re-imagined products designed for recreational boaters.
Coast Survey enables chart users to take advantage of its enhanced products without requiring large investments in advanced technology.
It is hoped that recent efforts to increase the detail of its digital data and modernizing standards will encourage innovation and data usage beyond traditional charting.

Coast Survey continues to innovate the services it is providing to constituents and stakeholders, including those outside of the maritime navigation community, such as oceanographers, resource managers, and coastal engineering designers and developers.
To put these innovations in the context of current and future users of Coast Survey’s navigation services, let’s review the value of charting and of the underlying data in supporting decision- making by these groups.

Rolls-Royce Intelligent Awareness System

The Robots Are Coming: Unmanned Vessels and the Need for Precise Navigation Data

Recently, there have been several industry announcements about unmanned vessels, including some testbed work to be done in Norway this summer.
The use of unmanned vessels has the potential to increase maritime shipping efficiency.
As the world looks to reduce the cost of shipping— both environmental risk and direct operational cost—there is recognized value in providing real-time navigation services in coastal regions enabled by higher-bandwidth connections to authoritative sources ashore.
The provisioning of these services, which may include weather, port services, regulatory framework, and other location-based information, is likely to be a growth area of maritime service providers.
They will need to have readily available authoritative navigation data to support these services, including weather models, currents, and other observations.

In time, and as these services result in machine augmentation of the navigator’s decision-making, there will be opportunities to develop risk assessment as part of the voyage planning automation toolkit.
Voyage planning is a fundamental task in ensuring safety of shipping and consists principally of optimization of route and speed to arrive at the next port at the expected time.
Understanding the environmental constraints, such as wind, current, and underkeel clearance for every leg of the voyage is critical to managing the risks of the journey.
Preparing for computer-enabled decision support of this aspect of navigation will include sensor integration, such as the present state of radar and sonar integration with Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), and also the incorporation of new information into the same operating visualization, such as weather and sea state models, observations from nearby stations, and historical trends in routing and environment.
For example, if ten ships of deeper draft and lower tide have been through a passage, the current ship likely has less underkeel clearance (UKC) risk.
However, if this is an estuarine port and the prior ships were inbound on a flood tide, it’s possible that their buoyancy was greater (given salt water), and so the latest ship may have a grounding risk that the prior ships did not.

The dream of self-driving ships is becoming a reality.
This includes the already available automated route planning in electronic charting systems for recreational mariners.
However, self- driving ships and automated routes are only as good as the data that is being used to run them.
A large part of Coast Survey’s recently released National Charting Plan prioritizes a quadrupling of large scale charting coverage.
This more detailed data will be instrumental in serving as the base map for voyage planning services of all types.

ENC Place Names and scale issue

Augmenting Human Decision- Making: Interoperable Navigation Data is the Key to Success

As the various sensors are integrated to the bridge control and visualization system of the future, there is significant potential for the display of the data to be too cluttered to quickly assess, orient, and act upon the information by humans alone.
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has been working on new standards (S-101 and others) that will drive how charts and the information they portray will change.
Coast Survey has transitioned from a chart-by-chart content curation model to a unified national-level database of navigational features in preparation for this future.
This database will serve as the underlying information for the spectrum of new S-100 product specifications which will make interoperable data for tides, surface currents, sailing directions and a variety of additional information critical for making decisions at sea.

Custom Charts

Another benefit of Coast Survey’s currently-available navigation database, is to create a custom chart with automated cartography for any area NOAA has compiled.
NOAA Custom Charts currently use the same chart symbolization as is used on an ECDIS.
For boats in an emergency, such a backup will be easier to transition to when the ECDIS is suddenly unavailable.
However, plans are underway for optional displays in the traditional style of NOAA charts and custom repeatable ordering systems that would have digital versions of paper charts delivered regularly to the customer.

Since NOAA Custom Chart uses the NOAA ENC® suite as its data source, re- scheming ENC data, as outlined in the National Charting Plan will have the added benefit of offering more detailed paper chart coverage wherever large scale ENCs have been built.

Crowd-Sourced Navigation Data: Ensuring Data is Accurate and Reliable

There is a lot of talk about crowdsourcing—using data collected from private sources.
Coast Survey has maintained a crowdsource conflation and presentation workflow for decades, that’s where “existence doubtful” and “position approximate” chart features came from.
The modern approach to taking advantage of all available data and presenting a recommended level of confidence begs many questions.

 Dr Larry Mayer, director of the CCOM, UNH and Andy Amstrong work on mapping the ocean floor.
Photo courtsey of John Farrell, US Arctic Research commission

Who owns the data?
Who is responsible for crowdsource data certification, a necessary step in changing ‘data’ to ‘information’ and releasing it as a service?
Should the traditional cartography that is becoming increasingly automated transition to curation of content that ensures that the right information is being used for the right reason at the right time?
If other countries and authoritative producers created freely or even readily-available digital information products, wouldn’t that create an opportunity for innovative analysis and tools to be created for improving the decision-making processes within all the communities?

Rather than focus on the direct navigation problem of supporting a human navigator in assessing the risk of maritime movement, perhaps the true value of the content of a national or regional nautical information system is in the analytical tools and ecosystem of available partners to bring new insights to the 70% of the world that is “blue.”

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