Like much of the Japanese economy, the marine industry in Japan has been grappling with an ageing population and a shortage of workers required to deliver marine transport services that power 99.7% of the country’s overseas trade.
In addressing this shortfall, JRCS – a Japanese company that supplies and maintains power management and automation control systems for the global marine industry – has teamed up with Microsoft in a project that hopes to harness mixed reality (MR) and artificial intelligence (AI) for training, improving workplace safety and speeding up maintenance work.
As part of the collaboration, JRCS will test the use of Microsoft’s HoloLens MR headset and Azure’s AI capabilities to train merchant shipping and marine industry personnel including seafarers and land-based supervisors around the world, expanding the reach of its training programmes currently offered at its Shimonoseki headquarters.
With the use of Microsoft’s language translation capabilities, and the sharing of MR spaces that include digital content overlaid on control systems, JRCS added that seafarers around the world will be able to participate in training in equipment and systems operation at any time regardless of location or native language.
To lighten workloads and reduce the risk of injury and human error during maintenance operations, JRCS will also equip its engineers with HoloLens headsets that display maintenance procedures over the equipment being serviced. The company plans to commercialise a maintenance application for high-voltage switchboards by the end of 2019.
Available in Japan since January 2017, HoloLens combines real and virtual worlds by overlaying holograms on the real world. Unlike virtual reality devices, MR devices such as HoloLens let users manipulate holograms in collaborative meetings between geographically separated employees, complete with audio and video.
JRCS said it has joined Microsoft’s HoloLens development programme and has used the latter’s digital advisory services to develop concept models for its HoloLens applications.
In addition, JRCS will work with Microsoft Japan to explore the use of the internet of things and AI to enable a “digital captain” – essentially a digital command service – to undertake the duties of ship captains in the near future to control multiple vessels from land.
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These digital captains, when ready in 2030, will be able use HoloLens to share 3D charts with other digital captains in remote locations and check sea routes, weather, submarine topography and other information, while also leveraging AI so as to ensure ship safety and enable accurate and efficient maritime transport.
JRCS’s collaboration with Microsoft is part of efforts by its new digital innovation lab to develop cutting-edge technologies for the merchant shipping and marine industries through digital transformation.
Similar efforts are also being undertaken across Asia. In November 2015, Singapore technology firm Ascenz developed a vessel performance management system to capture and transmit shipboard data, such as fuel consumption and engine performance, to shore for analysis. This will enable ship owners to optimise vessel performance and potentially lower maintenance cost.
Singapore’s Maritime Port Authority has also partnered with IBM to develop and test-bed analytics technologies aimed at improving maritime and port operations to cater to increasing growth in vessel traffic in Singapore, one of the busiest ports in the world.