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Vol 38  No 1
August 11, 2005


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Building a better lifeboat launch simulator

By Kim Thornhill

Launching an enclosed lifeboat from an oil rig is not something you would want to do for the first time in a storm. What if you could learn how to perform such a meticulous operation before you went to sea? What about before you even sat in the lifeboat?

Tucked away in a remote corner of the Marine Institute campus, a small group of designers are helping lifeboat coxswains learn how to do just that by building a new lifeboat launch simulator. The project is part of Capt. Anthony Patterson’s plan to bring the institute’s Centre for Marine Simulation into the exciting field of simulator design and construction.

Two years ago, the plan to develop the training tool was hatched during model tests of an evacuation system at the Institute for Ocean Technology (IOT). Capt. Patterson teamed up with researchers Brian Veitch of Memorial’s Ocean Engineering Research Centre and Antonio Simoes Re of IOT.

“The model test offered visuals of what the coxswain sees as the lifeboat descends into rough waters. We thought with our simulation experience, we could pair that visual with a driver console to help coxswains undergo evacuation training in simulated extreme conditions but in a safe environment,” says Capt. Patterson.

CMS set to work with its new partners with seed funding from PRAC to develop a proof of its simulator concept. In the first year of development, CMS put together a team of co-op engineering students with Memorial who programmed the software and visuals for the simulator on a laptop. To date, 13 students have contributed to the project. With further support from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Idea to Innovation program, the concept moved to the development of an engineering prototype. The development of the simulator is also part of a research program sponsored by the Atlantic Innovation Find to improve modeling and simulation of harsh environments.

The prototype features three screens that wrap around the driver who sits inside mock-up of a lifeboat cockpit, based on the control systems of Mad Rock Marine’s Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft. Mad Rock is a local marine technology firm that specializes in offshore safety equipment for extreme sea and environmental conditions. The visuals are synchronized with the cockpit controls that trick the driver into perceiving motion even though the prototype is fixed to the floor. Rear sound speakers and a woofer provide the driver with audio cues and vibrations to make the lifeboat launching all the more realistic.

Drivers will learn how to operate the lifeboat through a series of increasing difficult scenarios. While they begin with simple daytime launches, they later perfect their launching skills by dealing with a combination of night time and extreme weather conditions along with instrumentation failures.

The next step for the prototype is its verification, validation and accreditation trials, which started this summer. Having licensed the simulator technology, Virtual Marine Technology, a company started by Memorial engineering graduates, is working with CMS in this stage to refine the engineering design, this time with funding from Natural Resources Canada. The portable simulator will be taken to MI’s Southside Marine Base where coxswain students and instructors will use the prototype to determine its effectiveness in training people to launch a lifeboat.

Capt. Patterson is confident that the trials will show that training in the simulator can help remove the danger for first-time lifeboat drivers.

“We are going to strengthen a driver’s ability to handle emergency situations by making better decisions based on the knowledge and experience they’ll gain from training in this simulator.” Capt. Patterson thinks cruise lines, the military and other educational institutions will be willing to purchase the simulator once it is ready for market.

CMS and Virtual Marine Technology Inc. will demonstrate the simulator to Canada’s search and rescue community at the upcoming SARSCENE 2005 conference in PEI in October. The international simulation community will also experience the simulator at the International Marine Simulator Forum CMS will host Sept. 20-23 in St. John’s.

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