Greater intelligence stakes a claim for Chinese smart ships

by | 6th February 2018 | News

Home News Greater intelligence stakes a claim for Chinese smart ships

The Naval Architect: February 2018

The January edition of The Naval Architect reported the launch of the much-anticipated vessel Great Intelligence (Da Zhi), heralded as China’s first significant ‘smart ship,’ at Marintec China. A re-design of fuel-efficient sister ship Green Dolphin, the 38,800dwt bulk carrier is a collaboration between the Shanghai Merchant Ship Design and Research Institute (SDARI), the System Engineering Research Institute (SERI – part of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation), and the classification societies Lloyd’s Register (LR) and China Class Society (CCS). First announced in 2015 and taking three years to complete, Great Intelligence was conceived from the beginning as a ‘smart’ or ‘digital’ ship, incorporating an array of systems across the vessel to improve safety, economy, and fuel efficiency, and lessen environmental impact. In recognition of the centrality of this technology to Great Intelligence, the vessel attained Lloyd’s Register’s descriptive notes for a ‘cyber-enabled ship,’ making it the first Chinese vessel to do so and one of a small number worldwide.


An intelligent vessel
Great Intelligence is perhaps the most significant affirmation yet of the growing awareness in the maritime industry of the benefits of ‘big data’: collecting, analysing, and acting upon mass amounts of data, in real time, in order to optimise vessel performance and operating procedures. In effect, all of Great Intelligence’s smart systems draw on the big data principle, working to optimise a particular area of ship operation from routing to emissions. When combined, these smart systems generate a vessel-wide holistic network that allows the vessel to constantly evolve and improve by recognising and cancelling out performance inefficiencies wherever they occur. By collecting and acting on data in real time, too, Great Intelligence can respond to situations as they arise, achieving immediate results. Moreover, by employing the Artificial Intelligence (AI) software built into its systems, which relies on algorithms, the vessel can ‘learn’ from historical data and forecast unexpected future situations, generating solutions before they become an issue.


Two key smart systems define Great Intelligence: the Ship Operation and Management System (SOMS) and the Intelligent Navigation System (INS). The former is split into three constituent parts: Health Management, Energy Efficiency Management, and the Intelligent Integration Platform. The first, Health Management, monitors the parameters within which different pieces of equipment are operating, in order to support crew decisions relating to equipment adjustment or operation. The second, Energy Efficiency Management, monitors energy consumption, fuel levels and emissions, and voyage parameters, to optimise energy usage throughout each journey. The Intelligent Integration Platform, the third aspect of SOMS, works to tie together the system, by combining the data collected by Health Management and Energy Efficiency Management and analysing it to present crew with the information they need to make operational decisions that impact the vessel as a whole confidently. As well as collecting data, the SOMS also allows for streamlined data management, a task that can otherwise be a headache for operators.


Complementing the Ship Operation and Management System is the Intelligent Navigation System (INS). Designed to ‘augment’ rather than ‘replace or impact’ the ship’s regular navigation and safety systems, the INS collects data from both ship and shore to suggest potential adjustments to the vessel’s baseline route, with an eye towards optimising it in a variety of ways; for instance, the INS might point out a shorter route, leading to lower fuel consumption and journey time, or calculate a route that avoids a sudden storm or rough seas. By collecting this data in real time, on a constant basis, the INS automates the time-consuming process of manually contacting service stations to obtain route and meteorological information, lessening the delay between gaining and acting on new information.


Commenting on the attributes of Great Intelligence, LR Marine and Offshore Director Nick Brown stated: “It is a true landmark for all parties involved. We are very proud to be helping our clients build more autonomous ships that are safer, more efficient and energy saving.” While Great Intelligence features technology that allows for a certain level of autonomy, as Brown notes, it is important to recognise that it is not fully autonomous; its smart systems cannot make decisions separately from crew, but rather act to advise and aid decision-making. As such, Great Intelligence represents a step forward in autonomous ship technology, but is at a distance yet from the promise hinted at by Rolls-Royce and others of fully autonomous vessels in the near future. 


A cyber-enabled ship
Part of Great Intelligence’s significance comes from Lloyd’s Register’s presentation of cyber-enabled ship descriptive notes to the vessel – Cyber AL2 Safe, Cyber AL2 Maintain, and Cyber AL2 Perform – at Marintec China 2017. The classification society was the first to develop notation in the area of smart / cyber-enabled ships, releasing their initial guidance document, ‘Deploying Information and Communications Technology in Shipping – Lloyd’s Register’s Approach to Assurance,’ in February 2016. This guidance defines the cyber systems that underpin a cyber-enabled ship, and their safe application: “Cyber systems transform a ship into a total system of interlinked systems (‘a system of systems’). While cyber systems are not exact substitutes for traditional electro-mechanical systems on board ships and their operators, they provide opportunities to combine these traditional components with more complex behaviour. When designed properly, the use of ICT can increase efficiency and safety through improved monitoring and communication, and greater situational awareness on the bridge, in the engine room and in other operational areas.” The document was followed in July 2016 by the release of the ShipRight procedure, which explains precisely how LR intended to apply their guidance, detailing “LR’s framework for accepting cyber technology at varying levels of autonomy.”


As cyber-enabled shipping represented uncharted waters for Lloyd’s Register, the classification society took pains to thoroughly consult the industry whilst creating its guidance. As Luis Benito, Marine & Offshore Innovation and Strategy Director, explains: “LR did indeed work with designers, builders, technology providers, flag administrations, ships owners and operators and smart systems designers in creating our procedures.”


Great Intelligence’s achievement of CES notes was expected, given that LR “was involved at a very early stage of this project”; in fact, the newbuilding actively contributed to the early development of LR’s guidance. Benito explained the timeline of the project: “In 2014 we signed a JDP agreement with CSSC SERI to support them in the development of the SOMS system (the cyber enabled system installed on board Great Intelligence). At the following step, where CSSC began to discuss the possibility of building a real vessel equipped with the smart system, SDARI became involved and we helped SERI and SDARI to develop the ship specification. At that time we had written our cyber-enabled ships guidance and we started to apply this to this project.”


In particular, Benito noted that Great Intelligence aided LR in creating their ShipRight procedure, which signalled a move from theory to the practical application of cyber-enabled shipping notation: “The ShipRight Procedure was partly created to include direct feedback from on-going projects, and the Great Intelligence project was one of these.”


Future-proof classification
Central to Lloyd’s Register’s guidance and assessment in the area of cyber-enabled shipping is the importance of taking what they call a “non-prescriptive approach,” as the rapid advancement of cyber technologies means new systems are arriving on the market and existing systems are being improved faster than guidance can be updated. Commenting on how this works in practice, Benito explained: “The approach recognises a number of areas that need to be carefully considered in the system design, such as overall system architecture, human-system interface, system integration, communications network, and security, and then applies LR’s Risk-Based Design methodology to determine the scope of system under assessment, challenge the design, and confirm appropriate mitigations to the risks identified are implemented.”


By identifying ‘areas’ rather than specific systems that require assessment, Lloyd’s Register appears to be exploring a more flexible, case-by-case approach to classification, which is arguably more future-proof than a stricter, prescriptive process. However, September 2017 saw LR release the first type approval procedure for cyber enabled components, which may offer a boon for owners and designers of smart ships who are looking to fast-track the classification process by selecting type-approved products that meet LR’s requirements from the beginning, rather than hoping that their unique cyber system is up to standard.


As one of the pioneer cyber-enabled ship projects, and the first Chinese vessel to receive LR’s CES descriptive notes, Great Intelligence is sure to be seen as a consequential vessel, staking a claim for SDARI and CSSC as institutions at the forefront of ship design, and for Lloyd’s Register as the leader in smart ship classification. As the vessel settles in to its working life, transporting coal and salt between Australia, China and Southeast Asia for Sinotrans Shipping, the efficiency and economy offered by its cyber systems will soon become apparent; if the theory of smart ships is validated in practice by vessels such as Great Intelligence, we are sure to see further integration of cyber systems in the coming years.

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