How Wärtsilä Revolutionizes Maritime Training with Varjo XR Technology
Wärtsilä is developing innovative mixed reality training solutions that hold potential to revolutionize the way seafarers are trained.
Wärtsilä has been in the marine simulation business for more than 30 years. Headquartered in Finland and employing more than 17,000 people, the company is the global leader in the commercial marine training space and is also growing rapidly in the naval segment.
Wärtsilä currently has more than 3,000 simulator installations worldwide for many use cases such as navigation, cargo handling, engine rooms, and more. These simulators range from full mission bridge simulators to standalone trainers and desktop simulators, all of which aim to replicate ship operations to varying degrees of complexity.
While traditional simulators have been extremely useful in maritime training, the company is now enhancing existing training capabilities with new mixed reality training solutions that will revolutionize the way seafarers are trained.
Challenge: How to make high-quality training more accessible
All seafarers undertake regular training both for professional development and regulatory purposes. Traditional simulators are an effective way of meeting these training needs, but they have challenges when it comes to scalability and training velocity.
Maritime simulators typically feature physical controls and multiple 2D screens to project the scenario for the user. These multi-screen setups have significant building and operating costs. For example, a full mission bridge simulator’s visual infrastructure alone can consist of dozens of high-end projectors and computers. The physical size and complexity of the simulators also means installing simulators is slow, taking weeks at minimum.
Large simulators also require large facilities and active maintenance, which aren’t available everywhere. There is a limited number of maritime training centers available worldwide, which limits the available training hours and throughput.
Previous immersive solutions lacked sufficient quality
Wärtsilä has long sought and pioneered innovative technologies to enhance its offering for customers and make training more accessible. But until now, the VR/XR technologies available have not simply been good enough to complement traditional training solutions.
The problem with virtual reality has been that the visual quality has been lacking, and VR hasn’t been effective enough to meet the demands of maritime training. This is because most VR headsets block out the real world, preventing training with real-world controllers and instruments, developing muscle memory, and offering very limited collaboration with other trainees.
Solution: Best-in-class mixed reality training systems
Wärtsilä has explored various mixed reality technologies as a potential solution to scaling the availability of training and providing a more cost-effective solution for its customers. During this journey, Wärtsilä came across Varjo.
According to Johan Ekvall, Head of Product Simulation & Training, Wärtsilä, the company had tried other VR and XR technology providers before, but none of them had the required visual quality – until Varjo came along.
“No other device beyond Varjo’s Focal Edition had the required visual quality or ability to reach the level of immersion we needed,” Ekvall says.
“Varjo was the first technology provider able to meet our requirements. ”
Johan Ekvall - Head of Products, Wärtsilä Voyage
True multi-user training with mixed reality
Another breakthrough was that Wärtsilä could finally unlock true multi-user training for HMD-based solutions, thanks to Varjo’s advanced video pass-through XR capabilities. Many maritime training scenarios must incorporate several people as seafarers operate together in the real world. A good example is bridge resource management training, where several people need to be in the same physical space and communicate together in real-time.
With Varjo’s mixed reality, multi-user training becomes much easier as the trainees can see and talk to each other naturally while operating in a virtual environment. Using XR headsets also provides full 360-degree observational angles, as the size of physical 2D screens no longer limits the virtual scenario.
Thanks to Varjo’s mixed reality, Wärtsilä is now exploring many kinds of advanced simulators to train future seafarers. One of the practical customer implementations Wärtsilä has developed so far is the Marine Small Boat Trainer. Wärtsilä has developed the trainer with their own proprietary 3D engine using Varjo’s native SDK. The solution uniquely leverages multiple key technologies only available in Varjo headsets – including real-time chroma keying, masking, and Varjo Lab Tools – probably making it one of the most technologically advanced XR training setups in the world.
Practical application of XR: Marine Small Boat Trainer
In this simulator, two trainees sit together in a small vessel cockpit and wear Focal Edition headsets.
One person drives the vessel while the co-pilot focuses on navigation, communication, observation, and other tasks. The simulator seamlessly blends real and digital objects to provide a highly immersive training solution.
The simulator features a physical cockpit with real controls and equipment like radios, screens, and navigational charts. A virtual environment is projected outside of the cockpit, and even parts of the cockpit itself, like the roof and back wall, are also virtual. This seamless blending of digital and real worlds is possible thanks to Varjo’s chroma keying and masking capabilities, ensuring a full sense of immersion.
In addition, the entire simulator is placed on a motion platform, which provides a realistic sense of motion that you’d experience out on the seas. This is a game changer for small boat trainers because a light craft moves around a lot out on the sea.
“Accurately replicating the sense of physical movement increases immersion and effectiveness of training outcomes by a large degree. No other solution has achieved this level of immersion in the past,” says Nikita Kadrov, Chief Product Owner, Simulation & Training, Wärtsilä.
In this kind of training scenario, visual clarity is crucial. There are a lot of instruments, screens, and charts, and trainees need to be able to read them accurately, even in a moving environment. With Varjo Focal Edition’s high visual clarity up close, trainees can naturally interact with these instruments and objects like they would in the real world.
These combined technologies result in the simulator providing a degree of immersion like no other solution in the maritime space.
XR brings major benefits
Undeniable cost advantages
Although it is still early days for XR deployments, Wärtsilä sees that mixed reality simulators have multiple clear benefits for scaling maritime training, by complementing the traditional simulators. The first advantage is reduced cost and better return on investment. “Varjo’s mixed reality can reduce the visual infrastructure cost alone by 40–80% compared to traditional maritime simulators. This is because you need a lot less hardware and the simulator is much faster to set up,” says Johan Ekvall.
Compared to traditional screen-based simulators that take weeks to install and require large facilities and dozens of computers, mixed reality simulators only require a single GPU-powered computer per headset and take, at most, a couple of days to set up.
Fewer computers and screens also mean less need for physical space and much lower maintenance costs. Most importantly, XR simulators allow efficient scaling of training as adding additional simulators no longer requires much additional space. This can lead to increased training volumes and throughput, resulting in a lower cost per trainee. All these factors combined can mean better margins, more revenue, and wider access to training, resulting in almost immediate positive returns on investment.
“In the future, mixed reality is going to be one of the cornerstone technologies of maritime training.”
Johan Ekvall - Head of Products, Wärtsilä Voyage
Democratizing seafarer training
The world needs more and more competent seafarers. Advanced training solutions and courses have traditionally been fairly expensive and available to a minimal subset of trainees.
“As the cost and volume of training can be reduced with XR solutions, training can be made available in more places far more efficiently and at an affordable price,” Ekvall says. This democratization of training will eventually lead to more skilled seafarers, which the entire marine industry can benefit from.
With early positive feedback from customers and partners, Johan Ekvall and his team are curious to see where mixed reality can take Wärtsilä and the entire maritime training industry in the future.
“In the future, mixed reality is going to be one of the cornerstone technologies of maritime training. The business case and early results from adopting them are simply undeniable.”
Learn more about other pioneering use cases for VR/XR:
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