Innovation is the Byword, Enhanced Safety the Target

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Continuous improvement is in its mission statement. Innovation is the foundation of its reputation. And both are being brought to bear in changes to Royal Caribbean’s Safety Management System, already far more comprehensive and imposing than perhaps anyone outside the cruiseline can imagine.

Tracy Murrell, RCL’s vice president for maritime safety, laid it out in her presentation at the 2018 Passenger Ship Safety conference in Southampton, England.

“I was very transparent in discussing the challenges we have,” she says, “and how we need to make our operation more efficient by using technology that really wasn’t available when we started building all this.”

“All this” is 20,000 pages of documents covering everything from navigation to food and beverage handling.

“SMS is primarily a safety management system,” Murrell explains, “but ours encompasses basically everything you need to know on our policies and procedures for operating a vessel within Royal Caribbean.”

Originally ink on paper, it was converted to computer documents in 2000-01. As it grew, it became an ever-bigger challenge to use it efficiently.

So it’s time for new tech, for innovation.

RCL is a member of the National Safety Council, where industry ideas are exchanged and discussed, yet Murrell says she has found nothing like its plans to tackle the SMS.

“It’s been a challenge because nobody has this kind of concept off the shelf,” she says. “I think we’re really pushing the boundaries with this, and we believe that it will be industry-leading when we get it done.”

Folding in artificial intelligence in the form of “machine learning” is a prime example. The machine, a computer, uses statistics and algorithms to predict the needs of a user based in part on previous activity. It’s used in many of the search services provided by Google.

“I think we have a little bit of a path to go before we get there,” Murrell continues. “But if we could ultimately get to that point we might achieve even greater efficiency.”

Also in the works are efforts to bring augmented reality, which overlays computer-generated images on a real-world view, to the bridges of RCL vessels.

“For instance, in the area of navigation, it would (make) information a little more readily available, potentially up on the bridge windows through a digital process,” Murrell says.

It would be useful in times of restricted visibility, or even in fair-weather conditions, by displaying loads of information in virtual or augmented reality 3D modes on a screen or windows.

“Potentially you could interact with it,” Murrell says, “or you would preset the information and it would just be displayed there.”

One developing maritime segment being watched closely by RCL safety managers is autonomous shipping – carrying freight on vessels that are largely unmanned.

“When I talk about augmented reality, virtual reality and navigation, a lot of that is closely intertwined with the innovations going on in autonomous shipping,” Murrell says. “The projects are quite interesting for us – what kind of innovation is coming out of them and how they can make even our operations safer.”