Nortek speedlog screen frontview illustration

Nortek contributes to digital innovation on the ship’s bridge

Nortek is one of many suppliers of state-of the-art maritime equipment whose output needs to be interpreted by the crew on a ship’s bridge. At present, that means analyzing readings from multiple interfaces – a process that can lead to errors. Now, the OpenBridge initiative between the industry and academia aims to make the process much more user friendly.
27 minutes

The applications coming out of the digital revolution are enabling us to use technology in ways that were previously undreamed of. But their diversity can be a problem if you need them to work together within a friendly user interface.

A ship’s bridge is a case in point. It’s an increasingly hi-tech space made up of systems from many suppliers with differing specifications and different user interfaces, providing a potentially overwhelming amount of data in hard-to-reconcile forms across several displays.

That not only risks conflicts and compatibility issues, it also means operators require more training and are more likely to make errors.

Just to add to the problems, ships and vessel owners often use differing interface technology. That adds to costs and complexity for suppliers, as it means their own systems need to be tailored to work with several on-board systems.

Open-platform approach

A promising solution is being developed by the OpenBridge Design System research and innovation project, which is being run by the Ocean Industries Concept Lab at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, SINTEF Ocean and the University of South-Eastern Norway.

The OpenBridge researchers say the problems caused by inconsistent user-interface design are unlikely to be solved through existing regulations and design guidelines. So, their aim is to develop an open platform to provide better and safer user interfaces on ships, simplify multi-vendor integration and make it easier to bring new applications to the bridge.

Nortek is among the 27 partners collaborating on the project. In February 2019, Nortek joined the group, which also includes other key navigational-equipment suppliers and institutions with interests in the maritime sector, including Kongsberg and Lloyd’s Register. Funding is from public and industry partners and the Research Council of Norway.

“Nortek believes the project represents the future of bridge systems on board vessels,” says Madeline Brien of Maritime Business Development at Nortek. “An open framework for the design and development of bridge systems allows suppliers like Nortek – a provider of high-end Doppler instruments – to focus on their core technology, instead of expending resources on user-interface design and software,” she adds.

Mock-ups of Nortek’s speed log data interface submitted as part of the OpenBridge design process. The project aims to bring a unified equipment interface to the ship’s bridge, improving both efficiency and safety.

Nortek provides input with interface design

Nortek has submitted its user-interface design to the research team, and the team has made mock-ups of several user interfaces in the OpenBridge design (see image below).

The project, which started in 2017, recently completed the concept and specification phase and has now been extended until 2022. Currently work is being carried out on the user-testing framework, before the project moves on to a final phase, looking into the approval process for equipment using OpenBridge.

The project leaders hope that by involving maritime institutions and class societies in the collaborative group, the process of adopting OpenBridge widely across the industry will be made easier.

If it is a success, OpenBridge will provide a foundation for more cost-effective, safe and user-friendly ship bridges, and should pave the way for increased digital innovation within the industry.

Read paper on OpenBridge here: OpenBridge: Designing for Consistency Across User Interfaces in Multi-Vendor Ship Bridges (page 64-68)


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