Unpicking complexity

The bridge is the nerve centre of any ship: it’s where everything from manoeuvres to throttle levels can be controlled and commanded. With such an important role to play, it’s vital that bridges are designed to be as efficient, comfortable and safe as possible.

But, despite their central role in the world of shipping, bridges have long been the site of poor planning, confusing layouts and unnecessary complexity.

  • Usability
  • Ergonomics
  • Safety

Usability

  • For decades, technology has been added to bridges in a largely haphazard, random way. This has led to chaotic results.
  • A mariner new to a ship may be faced with dozens of display screens, levers and rows of identical switches, all of which need to be made sense of.
  • It’s the equivalent of getting into a car you’ve never driven before and finding that the accelerator pedal is actually on the dashboard.

Ergonomics

  • Comfort is incredibly important for mariners who are often on a ship’s bridge for long periods of time: having to sit in uncomfortable seats can impact their concentration and their health.
  • It’s also vital that the most important controls on the bridge can be easily reached, yet often bridges will have poorly designed layouts that can make manoeuvres and operations more difficult than they need to be.

Safety

  • With bridges being often poorly designed, uncomfortable places to work, mariners can be coping with unnecessary complexity.
  • This is because they’re not only running operations and manoeuvres, but also contending with whatever quirks and features the bridge may have.
  • This can mean that vital concentration and effort is wasted on simply interpreting a badly designed system, reducing their ability to focus on important tasks and possibly impacting their ability to react quickly and safely to incidents.

Putting people at the heart of design

When it came to completely redesigning the ship bridge environment, user experience had to come first. This is where our investment in research and human-machine-interface studies comes in. From interviewing operators to observing real life platform supply operations and running realistic simulations in a virtual environment, we did everything to understand exactly how operators interact with equipment, which functions are vital and what could be removed or merged on the bridge to improve performance.

Turning research into reality

Using the research, we developed several different prototypes of bridge consoles. This process begins at the most basic level, using cardboard and sticky notes to create a prototype before moving to polystyrene models and finally to a full-scale plastic replica. This was then unveiled at the Nor-Shipping convention in 2011, where we were able to gain feedback that enabled us to further develop our concept.

A complete change

Simplicity, safety, performance and proximity

Our award-winning Unified Bridge is the result of this research. Taking our learnings and combining this with our experience in ship design and systems integration, it’s a complete redesign of the ship bridge environment.

Simplicity, safety, performance and proximity are the driving forces of the Unified Bridge. This is because everything we’ve done is user-centric. Banks of screens have been replaced with one console showing key information. Levers are always located in set positions (like the pedals in a car), and instead of being on chair arms they have been positioned so operators can choose to sit or stand, enabling them to change position during long watches. The result is an easier-to-use, more comfortable and safer bridge environment. And because the bridge is built from a series of modular consoles, the layout can be designed to suit any vessel type.

The extent to which users are at the heart of the design of the bridge is evident in the little touches that make a big difference. Key equipment is within arm’s reach. The seats have been designed based on those you’d find in a sports car. Every console and screen can be dimmed centrally, meaning operators don’t have to individually change each monitor as dusk falls. Other key auxiliary equipment (such as wipers) is also fully integrated, allowing those operating the bridge to control everything from one place.

The Unified Bridge is a game-changing step forward for ships and the mariners who operate them. Since development, the bridge has been installed on the Stril Lunar, where we’ve continued to undertake user experience research, enabling us to improve the bridge further for future customers.

Streamlined simplicity

Why would you find a ketchup bottle on a ship’s bridge?

Dr Frøy Bjorneseth discusses the challenges, and unusual finds, that were overcome in the development of the Unified Bridge.

Which engine would you like to view?

X

Central control

What:

Central control of key systems and equipment from one console including alert handling, lighting and auxiliary equipment

Benefit:

Reduction in time required to perform key tasks and increased ease of key functions, reducing cognitive load on those carrying out operations and manoeuvres

Ease of use

What:

Equipment controls and systems placed within arm’s reach, based on research findings of crews’ requirements

Benefit:

Increased ease of use and speed of use of key equipment and systems, increasing response times in emergency situations and every day operations

Less is more

What:

Simplification and decluttering of bridge environment, and use of consistent interfaces

Benefit:

New crew members to a vessel can easily understand and use the bridge environment, and cognitive load required to operate the vessel is reduced, increasing responsiveness in emergency situations and efficiency of operations

Usability

Improved comfort

What:

Chairs based on sports car design, including use of hard wearing and breathable leather

Benefit:

Improved comfort for crew members, particularly during long shifts

Natural movement

What:

Ergonomically designed levers, consoles and chairs

Benefit:

Improved comfort during operations and increased usability of key systems and equipment, based on a person’s natural movements

Increased choice

What:

Variable work positions, giving crew members the option to sit or stand

Benefit:

Improved comfort for crew members based on their personal preferences; particularly relevant during long operations

Ergonomics

Consistent controls

What:

Holistic user experience and consistency in bridge controls, consoles and interfaces

Benefit:

Familiarity for crews with the bridge and how it works, designed based on their needs and requirements, therefore increasing efficiency, speed and control

Increased visibility

What:

Improved view of the aft deck for PSV and AHTS vessels

Benefit:

Increased situational awareness for captain and crew, reducing likelihood of accidents and enabling issues to be seen quicker

Relevant information only

What:

Important and critical information displayed at all times, based on operational needs

Benefit:

Only data required for decisions being made is displayed, reducing the potential for errors

Safety

Strength in numbers

The Unified Bridge, now the standard for integrated bridge solutions and winner of the Ergonomics Design Award, is a symbol of what can be achieved when ships and their systems are designed around the needs of the people who use them. But this is just the beginning.

We’re already working on the next development of the Unified Bridge, re-envisioning how we can join the dots between all the data currently available from ships and the equipment they use, to further improve safety and efficiency.

Our future operator experience bridge concept is a vision for combining all this data into one intelligent bridge concept that has specific benefits and applications for a range of vessels, from tug boats to cargo ships. It’s a concept that could be the future brain of autonomous vessels.

Building on our Unified Bridge, the concept will mean that pre-planning of operations can be handled by an onshore based remote fleet monitoring centre, a hub for data handling and analysis. This means that future operations could be planned and monitored for their duration, improving efficiency and safety for all involved.

Discover more about the future of ship intelligence

“The new oX bridge concept, is one example of ship intelligence, and is a glimpse into the future where significant advances to navigation, efficiency of operations and safety at sea, can be achieved.”

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President - Marine

Strength in numbers

The Unified Bridge, now the standard for integrated bridge solutions and winner of the Ergonomics Design Award, is a symbol of what can be achieved when ships and their systems are designed around the needs of the people who use them. But this is just the beginning.

We’re already working on the next development of the Unified Bridge, re-envisioning how we can join the dots between all the data currently available from ships and the equipment they use, to further improve safety and efficiency.

Our future operator experience bridge concept is a vision for combining all this data into one intelligent bridge concept that has specific benefits and applications for a range of vessels, from tug boats to cargo ships. It’s a concept that could be the future brain of autonomous vessels.

Building on our Unified Bridge, the concept will mean that pre-planning of operations can be handled by an onshore based remote fleet monitoring centre, a hub for data handling and analysis. This means that future operations could be planned and monitored for their duration, improving efficiency and safety for all involved.

Discover more about the future of ship intelligence

“The new oX bridge concept, is one example of ship intelligence, and is a glimpse into the future where significant advances to navigation, efficiency of operations and safety at sea, can be achieved.”

Mikael Makinen, Rolls-Royce, President - Marine