In what ways do simulator platforms help to fulfil the training requirements of maritime personnel?

Pjotr van Schothorst: It all starts with the user acquiring a basic familiarisation with a ship’s bridge and its equipment, from radar and ECDIS to GMDSS, GPS and AIS. It is much cheaper to learn about all this on a desktop simulator than on a real ship. Next is real, intense training for these equipment types, with demanding situations such as port approaches in dense traffic and bad weather. The beauty of simulators is that the instructors can make it as easy or hard as they want. Step by step, as you increase the difficulty level, the students can gradually learn how best to focus their attention. Once fully familiar with all the equipment, the next step is to do team training in a full mission bridge simulator, again, with increasing levels of difficulty in the scenario. On real ships, it would take ages to experience so many different scenarios with a stepwise increase in difficulty level.

What makes VSTEP unique in this particular marketplace?

The reason clients often choose us is not only for the better quality of our products but also the service level they experience from our people. Many clients require customisation in the hardware layout of the bridge, software functionality, and the vessel types and ports. We make a big point of providing short delivery times for the simulators themselves and customisations. Another reason is the on-board incident trainer we developed with our RescueSim product. Using a 3D replica of their ship in RescueSim, clients can now perform incident response training in combination with bridge training very effectively. In general, our main products – RescueSim and our NAUTIS platform – contribute to a safer world in which accidents can be avoided or contained. All of us at VSTEP feel passionate about that. Our people bring their enthusiasm across to our clients, which is another reason they want to work with us.

In what ways is VSTEP’s new NAUTIS 3 simulator platform a cut above its predecessors?

We were running into some technical limitations with our previous simulation development platform. Clients increasingly wanted large 3D training areas; for example, hundreds or even thousands of kilometres of coastlines with a 3D seabed, ports and buoys. This necessitated higher precision levels in distance calculations, more hardware memory, which could be addressed by the software, and an architecture that was designed around expandability. All the lessons we learned from these experiences were used for the design of the new simulation platform. We were able to create an interface for our internal vessel hydrodynamics system from MARIN, a famous maritime R&D institute, so their vessel modules can be used inside our simulators. We included AGX, a world-class physics subsystem that provides very realistic wire behaviour, useful for training anchoring, mooring, towing and replenishment at sea. We developed a new ocean system that looks and behaves closer to reality than any other ocean waves system on the market. Lastly, we designed a completely new user interface for the instructor station using input from instructors who had frustrations not only with our previous product but also our competitors’ products.

Are there any emergent technologies in the simulator space that you’re excited to integrate into future VSTEP products?

We are excited to see the increasing popularity of VR headsets in the consumer market. We are delivering a virtual binocular device with our new simulators to allow students to take the view on the bridge wings, helideck or other places on the vessel. They complement rather than replace a full mission bridge simulator. For RescueSim, we are experimenting with clients to see whether they prefer such a VR headset over a large projected view of the virtual incident. We will also experiment with tug trainers and RHIB trainers, where such a headset can offer a much larger field of view than a few desktop LCD displays.