Three ways augmented reality could change shipping

Although it is getting a foothold in entertainment, industrial applications of augmented reality are yet to take off and we are a long way away from widespread adoption in the maritime sector. That said, augmented reality has the power to fundamentally shift how we process information in our daily lives and there are some obvious applications to be had at sea, including training, maintenance, and operations.


AR is already being used in a number of industries to train employees carrying out technical tasks in the field. Most recently Verizon announced it is equipping its technicians with AR headsets to allow them to simultaneously learn on the job and record new training content. Technicians can access a library of content covering tasks that they may be required to complete on site. As well as accessing content, any technician can record themselves completing a task to share best practice or create a training video.

This has allowed Verizon to quickly build a library of real-world training content for their engineers, reducing time spent in classroom sessions and increasing their efficiency in the field. With the right checks and balances in place, a crowdsourced approach to training for marine engineers could massively reduce the costs of initial training and ongoing CPD. If a new Fourth Engineer could access virtual reality training videos which are specific to the vessel they are about to join before they’ve even left home, their induction time could be significantly reduced once they get on board.


In 2009, Columbia University carried out research alongside US Marine Corps Mechanics to examine the impact of AR on vehicle maintenance. The researchers built a 3D model of the cockpit of the vehicle and developed a software system to provide instructions, warnings, and component labels in a head-up display. By using the new system, the team of mechanics were able to locate and repair defects 47% faster than using a technical manual on a laptop.

Speaking to equipment manufacturers to troubleshoot issues is not a new thing, but imagine if they could see exactly what you could see, or if it was possible to get engine diagnostic information in a head-up display. Marine manufacturer Wartsila has successfully piloted using augmented reality goggles to connect remote support to engineers at sea. Since the pilot they have launched Virtual Service Engineer; a technical advisory service supported by a remote visual connection and augmented reality technology.


Despite some good looking concept designs from Rolls Royce over the last few years, there hasn’t been much real progress on using AR in navigation or operations until very recently. In June last year, Sedna, a consortium led by BMT Group received €6.5million of funding to develop new technology to improve navigation and operations in arctic environments. They have committed to moving augmented reality technology out of the concept stage and into the testing stage. To tackle challenges such as GNSS and compass errors, a lack of navigation information, the dangers of ice, and a lack of skilled arctic navigators, Sedna is creating a “Safe Arctic Bridge”.

The SEDNA Safe Arctic Bridge Concept – credit – SEDNA EU

The Safe Arctic Bridge is a human-centred operational environment for the ice-going ship. It uses augmented reality technology to provide improved situational awareness and decision making support. The AR display will use big data to display key information layers to the bridge team when they need it most.

These are just a few examples showing current and proposed use cases for AR but the technology is gaining rapid adoption in the consumer market. As adoption increases and the cost of AR development comes down, there is a massive opportunity for the industry to enhance the safety, skills, and productivity of seafarers all over the world.