19 November 2019

Two complete simulation environments, one for maritime applications and one for air traffic control, have been built at the Division of Media and Information Technology. “It may appear to us as games, but it is everyday experience for maritime pilots and flight controllers who visit”, says Jonas Lundberg.

Screens showing a simulation, the person in charge of the simulation is shown in a mirror in front of the screens
A sudden storm arises. Jonas Lundberg is on the bridge.  THOR BALKHED
We are on the bridge of a 160-metre tanker vessel approaching one of the most difficult-to-navigate parts of the Stockholm archipelago. A sailing boat crosses in front of us at a safe distance, but a sudden storm arises, lightning flashes, and just as we prepare to round a protruding skerry, a freight vessel appears in the centre of the sharp turn.

It’s lucky that this occurs in a simulator, because in the room we have neither professional sailors nor maritime pilots, just students, researchers and a curious journalist.

Jonas Lundberg in the simulator for maritime trafficJonas Lundberg on the bridge. Photo credit THOR BALKHED“When accidents occur at sea, automatic systems are nearly always involved in some way. Such systems are intended to make traffic safer, which means that the pilots must understand the systems and be able to take over if something goes wrong”, says Jonas Lundberg, associate professor in the Division of Media and Information Technology, and leader of the Reskill research project.

Prototype of a predictor

One of the things that the researchers are working with here is to develop a prototype of a predictor, a sign that shows on the screen where the vessel will be a few minutes from now, given the speed and course that the pilot has input.

“A freight ship of this size has a large inertia, and turns must be prepared far in advance”, says Jonas Lundberg and points at a line on the screen that shows where it will be necessary to start setting the rudder in order for the vessel to turn without going aground in the narrow waterway.

Carl Westin, postdoc in the division, adds a fault to the predictor to make it suddenly appear that the vessel is about to run aground on the skerry.
“We can add different types of errors to see how the pilots react. From this we can draw conclusions”, he says.

The simulator contains cameras that follow eye movements, which also makes it possible to analyse where the pilot is looking and make sure that all information is correctly positioned.

“Every vessel has a particular design, and they have very long lifetimes. The instruments on the bridge may be completely different, and we have had help from the Swedish Pim Supathida and Jonas Lundberg i the backgroundPim Supathida, expert in traffic control, LFV, and the simulator for maritime traffic control i the background. Photo credit THOR BALKHEDMaritime Administration to build a generic version – an example of a possible design. A pilot who comes onboard connects in his or her own equipment, but must even so master the different variants that are found”, says Jonas Lundberg.

Turning in a narrow passage is an interesting scenario for the researchers to study, while another is the process of laying alongside a quay.
“This is applied research: it’s intended to be useful”, says Jonas Lundberg.

Digital tower for air traffic control

In the room next door we find a virtual flight control tower, showing at the moment the view across Linköping Airport. A plane is coming in for landing.

“The digital tower air traffic control simulator is an extremely accurate copy of the workplaces already in use, in which planes are controlled remotely. Linköping Airport, for example, is monitored from Sundsvall”, says Jonas Lundberg.

One scenario that the researchers are working with concerns what happens when two planes come in for landing at the same time at two different airports, while only one air traffic controller is on duty. Currently, control of multiple airports by one controller is only done in research simulators. One issue is that one of the planes must circle until the other one has landed, which is not particularly environmentally friendly.

“We are trying to decide the circumstances in which it is possible to delegate one of the landing operations to a digital assistant”, says Jonas Lundberg.

The same is true here as for the maritime simulator: the air traffic controller must have a deep understanding of how the technology works, and must be able to rapidly take back control if something fails.

The research in the Reskill project and the simulators is financed from the general research budget of the Swedish Transport Administration, paid through the Swedish Maritime Administration and LFV, the agency that provides air traffic control services at Swedish airports. Saab has also contributed to the construction of the air traffic simulator. The Reskill project will continue until 2021.

“The project has many parts, and we are happy to take students on for various projects. These may be, for example, the effect of human factors, the psychology of operators, the interaction between humans and the instruments, and purely technical aspects of simulation” says Jonas Lundberg. He hopes that the simulators will also give added impetus to teaching in several courses that deal with humans and machines.

Billy Josefsson and Pim Supathida, LFVBilly Josefsson, project manager at LFV and Pim Supathida, operational expert in air traffic control and human performance, LFV. Photo credit THOR BALKHED

Translated by George Farrants



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