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Advancing ECDIS Technology with Innovation and Know-How

       

As the year 2013 kicks off, maritime fleets around the world are readying themselves for the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) mandated transition to the rigorously defined Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). 2012 was the deadline for outfitting all newly built ships with ECDIS navigation systems, and beginning this year all existing ships must begin in earnest the integration of ECDIS systems into their bridges. ECDIS will completely transform vessel navigation, giving bridge crews a level of awareness that was unimaginable even only forty years ago, and in the process the bridge of every oceangoing ship will undergo a radical and complex technological transformation. Each ship will be a unique exercise in technical expertise.

The International Maritime Office (IMO) has set 2018 as the cutoff year for ECDIS integration, so beginning this month the retrofitting work will kick into high gear, all across the world. ECDIS is a perfect example of "disruptive technology," bringing together all of a ship's navigation systems into a single, fully integrated display and control station in such a way that paper charts and visual navigation tools will become a thing of the past. The navigational tools of today will remain only , as fallbacks for desperate situations where the ship has lost all electronic capacity. The system is so revolutionary, it will require the retraining and certification of bridge officers all across the planet.

What ECDIS Integrates

This transition to ECDIS will, for many ships, require the complete re-working of the ship's bridge, a task of no small magnitude: in the process of making the change to an integrated electronic charting and navigation system, these ships will also choose to integrate the rest of their bridge. Alarms, ship's communications, and fire control stations, as well as radar, conning, ECDIS, and DGPS systems will all come together into a centralized control station. This will mean the integration of many disparate communications interfaces into a single processing hub. Further, because of the strict requirements for color calibration, after the initial manufacturing run ECDIS displays will need to be carefully maintained to retain approval for use in an ECDIS bridge station. All of these technical requirements are daunting hurdles for those tasked with designing and managing the retrofits.

A Fully Redundant Radar System

A Fully Redundant DPGS System

In anticipation of this transition—and with an eye to simplifying the process as much as possible—Moxa engineers have been working diligently to build convenience and flexibility into the base ECDIS components. Already known in the industry for our NMEA interface cards, we have now pushed those gateways to the next step, fully integrating them into computing hubs hardened to industrial standards, incorporating features like advanced thermal engineering, IP66 durability, and a diverse array of digital interfaces. The computers that have resulted from this effort are sturdy, dependable processing centers suitable for any bridge, and their value is not easily described: compact, powerful, durable, rugged, and engineered from the outset to be the lynchpin of any integrated bridge system, no matter what devices, networking, or communications must be served.

Yet while our marine computers are an undeniably solid and dependable foundation, they do not represent the biggest step forward in Moxa's ECDIS designs. That status is reserved for our color calibration technology, which is perhaps the most troublesome hurdle to manage, for both ECDIS manufacturers and end users alike. The electronic charts and information that ECDIS displays require an extremely precise color profile; this is to guarantee that ECDIS systems remain easily recognizable from ship-to-ship, and also to ensure that the information which is displayed on them remains legible and easily recognizable no matter the time, conditions, or age of the display. The calibration of an ECDIS display is, in fact, so precise that it can be corrupted by a change in chipsets, or even in video servers. For this reason, most ECDIS displays must be hand-calibrated on-site, or sold with a video processing computer, pre-calibrated as a unit. The consequences this has for system integrators and end users are clear: should the central processing hub need to be changed for any reason, or should the system undergo any radical upgrades, then a costly or time-consuming (or both) recalibration must be scheduled.

Moxa's engineers, however, have found a way to simplify this process. All of Moxa's ECDIS type-approved displays now come with a universal RGB file; this file allows our customers to match our IHO-approved ECDIS monitors to any chipset as they want, without any need to schedule a manual recalibration. Let's take a quick look at how our engineers have achieved this.

To get an idea of what ECDIS color calibration entails, let's take a quick glance at the International Hydrographic Organization's defining document, S-52 – Specifications for Chart Content and Display Aspects of ECDIS. In this, the IHO defines the equipment required, calibration set-up, and monitor set-up. The equipment includes color generation and measurement software, a photometer that includes a tristimulus colorimeter, and of course the monitor to be calibrated,, which must "be capable of a white screen (D-6500) of at least 85 cd/m²." Once this equipment is in place, the setup looks like this:

A typical color calibration setup showing software, monitor,
photometer/colorimeter, and measurement hardware.

However, even after the equipment has been acquired and configured, an additional preparation of the testing environment is required. Essentially, the calibration of the monitor must take place in as close to absolute darkness as is feasible for the standard testing lab. As the S-52 document stipulates:

All measurements should be taken in the dark, and all stray light and sources of reflections must be removed from the measurement area. The measurements are best taken with light absorbers in place around the monitor and measurement apparatus. This can be created by making a matte black cardboard tunnel around the monitor and colourimeter. Care must be taken by the operator that his clothing does not reflect light back into the measurement area.

Finally, the S-52 document goes on to stipulate how the monitor should be set-up for calibration, describing things like its burn-in process, how to track its color temperature, and how to set the controls ("The controls should be adjusted to achieve maximum required output level at full white signal.").

Performing this procedure for the customer before the sale is, of course, quite time consuming, especially since—in order to achieve a universal modularity—it must be done across all major video chipsets. However, the benefits the effort delivers to the customer are huge: where a typical ECDIS display must be hand-calibrated by specialists called in for this single task (or worse, be coordinated with the manufacturer on a case-by-case basis there), this universal RGB file allows ship technicians to bypass the initial calibration process entirely, effectively making each display a drop-in replacement for whichever role it needs to fulfill on the bridge, whether for ECDIS, conning, radar, or any other purpose.

A new RGB file may be first created on a representative panel, and
then used to reset other displays from the same manufacturing run.

Further, the value of this method is not only at the initial installation and configuration stage, but continues as the monitor's color profile begins to shift with age. For displays that are roughly the same age, recalibration need not be something undertaken on device-by-device basis. Instead, after recalibrating a display to adjust a color profile that has shifted beyond the acceptable parameters, the RGB file may be downloaded from the display and then re-used in its sister devices. Again, device modularity becomes a key time- and money-saving virtue, and with the calibration process taking around half-an-hour per display, the savings are considerable when servicing a large number of displays.

The International Hydrographic Office's S-52 color variation tolerances for
displays are only calibrated to 8ΔC units or under.

Big improvements in performance and device durability may be obtained
by engineering displays to within 4ΔC units.

While ECDIS represents the culmination of several decades of consensus, there is clearly a lot of room for innovation and careful design to offer significant value to the customer. The three facets of industrial-grade durability and design, innovative display technology, and integrated device modularization offer substantial savings for both system integrators and end users alike. By using innovative methods to achieve a universal color calibration file and NMEA integration, device interoperability for both computing hub and displays is significantly increased, streamlining and facilitating the integration and maintenance of system components. Similarly, by enforcing a more exacting standard for color calibration and device durability the overall mean time before failure for both the computing hub and displays is increased significantly. The value these engineering achievements offer ECDIS manufacturers and integrators (as well as ship owners and operators) is certain and undeniable.

To find out more about Moxa's innovations in ECDIS technology, visit our ECDIS technology microsite.To find out more about Moxa's full line of maritime computing products, please visit our marine computing portal.

 
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