When the Shortest Path From ‘A’ to ‘B’ is Not a Straight Line

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There are whale zones and vulnerable reefs to consider. Guest comfort is always in the mix. A ship’s length, width and weight have to be factored in. So do its highest and lowest points. The shortest distance likely isn’t the best. Weather is inconstant. And always, safety trumps all.

For a cruise ship, getting from here to there takes a lot of figuring to get it just right. And what worked a thousand times before, or this time, may not work next.

That’s where Royal Caribbean’s predictive route optimization system, which gets better every time it’s used, can solve a lot of headaches.

“You have the ship captains those who have been sailing for 30, 40 years – they are veterans,” says Anshul Tuteja, RCL director of energy management, fleet optimization for global marine operations. “With their expertise and situational awareness, coupled with the historical sailed route data that we have collected over the years results in a robust route library. For a given route when simulated with the forecasted weather & ship specific models, yields an optimal route prediction prior to the vessel sets sail.”

To make the dialogue more constructive, such a captain is assured that they are fully respected as master of their vessel, that the information they receive is advice and not an order, and the intricate work of the route optimization system is explained and presented as data-driven guidance for the captain’s own calculations in finding the most energy-efficient route.

Unlike choosing a land route, where the shortest distance between point A and point B is the best option, the optimal choice of multiple routes available to a Royal Caribbean captain is the one that requires the least fuel consumption.

But it also has to take into consideration such factors as environmental concerns for protected sea life; weather, and how it will affect both guest comfort and fuel consumption; whether the ship can clear both overhead and underwater obstacles; the given ship’s power plant; heavy traffic on the route; as well as winds, currents and other concerns and restrictions.

The input that can assist captains – who always have the last word – comes from an ever-growing databank maintained by Eniram, the Finnish company that began developing the predictive route optimization system with RCL in 2009. It’s available on all RCL ships, collecting and processing some seven billion data points every day to deliver real-time operational guidance to the captain, chief engineer and bridge crew.

There is one given, however, that never changes. Whatever the other considerations that have to be taken into account for route planning, the ship has to arrive at its port on time.

“If we arrive early, we’re consuming more fuel,” Tuteja says. “Neither do we want to arrive late, because then our guests won’t be satisfied. “We have to always arrive on time, so time is not our governing factor. It’s how much energy I’m going to consume to arrive at the destination.”

To make the point, Tuteja notes that optimizing route choice has saved RCL more than 10,000 metric tons of fuel in just the last two years.