Sensors: not only a game changer, a real lifesaver

Sensors have made their way into nearly every part of our everyday lives, changing the way we do virtually everything. Beyond changing lives, they can also help save lives, as ScanReach CEO John Roger Nesje tells here.

Locating crew on a ship in the event of an accident has always posed problems, and failure to do so can cost lives. When the Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald was struck by fire in 2011, the captain did not trigger the CO2-based fire extinguishing system because he was uncertain of the whereabouts of the engine room crew. Two crewmen died in the fire.

That tragic outcome triggered action. “We thought it must be possible to solve the problem of not being able to locate crew, so we started to investigate possible solutions,” says John Roger Nesje, the co-founder and CEO of Norway-based maritime IoT company ScanReach.

In 2014, the group began to look at possibilities for locating personnel on ships, including cabling, triangulation, and other technologies. Obstacles linked to cabling became apparent straight away. “First of all, we realized it would be virtually impossible to run cables through all rooms in an existing vessel. And even if you managed, or installed cables in a newbuild, they would probably not work in the event of a fire,” says Nesje.

This “dead end” lead to a solution: a completely wireless alternative employing sensors throughout the ship, and personal tag bracelets worn by crewmembers. “This could work on existing ships too, not just newbuilds, which was very important,” Nesje adds.

The Norwegian Navy made a ship at their headquarters available for testing. At the beginning of testing, the signal functioned very poorly in the steel environment. “We spent thousands of hours fine-tuning frequencies and tinkering with software protocols. Eventually it began to work,” Nesje says.

Once it started working, new applications began to present themselves. “When we started to see what the technology could do, we realized that personnel safety would be only one of the features we could deliver. We could track goods on board, the location of safety equipment, the performance of equipment – basically anything that could be monitored by sensors. In addition we could collect information from all the rooms on a ship, which allows us to detect leakage, gas, heat, and smoke,” says Nesje.

“We also began to get inquiries from third-party vendors with specialized sensors but without solutions for transporting data. Now we are working to integrate their data with our platform. This will allow us to expanding the field dramatically from our initial offering of lifesaving.”

Nesje reports that the main differentiators in the Scanreach system are the frequency and how the protocol is written. “Since we work globally, our frequency needs to be approved by all countries. To our knowledge, this is a unique feature. Our protocol is also unique, but this is basically in constant development.”

Sensors can certainly enhance crew safety. But where does the line go between a private and a shared life on board? “We monitor personnel only when an alarm goes off, or during drills,” Nesje assures. “And in all cases, we inform personnel when monitoring is ongoing. There is no unannounced monitoring unless requested by the customer.” Monitoring can also be anonymous, where crewmembers are known only by number in order to ensure rescue when needed.

“Sensors must be employed with common sense, and always with the human element in mind,” Nesje says. “For example with bridge personnel monitoring, we can see whether the manning is correct, just by counting the number and rank of crew present. With motion sensors, we can also detect a fall or lack of movement, indicating an accident. The crew can also activate an emergency button on their wearable device.”

Although the technology is advanced, Nesje assures that applying ScanReach solutions is simple. “All the customer needs to know is the number of rooms and the number of people on the ship, and they can order the system online and install it themselves. And it is the same process for large and small ships. This is truly a low threshold to high tech, a simple solution employing the most advanced technology.”

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