Setting Sail With Network Video

Setting Sail With Network Video

Great Lakes Maritime Academy leverages recorded IP video to

When your course curriculum includes 276 days at sea, it’s obvious that your college experience will be a little different from the average undergrad. Living off campus takes on a whole new meaning, and sleeping through just one class might lead to a false step into the open ocean. Training to become a merchant marine officer is serious work, and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy has been effectively preparing its cadets on the shores of Lake Michigan for more than 40 years.

As only one of six state maritime academies in the United States, and the only maritime academy to train merchant marine deck officers for commercial ships in both the Great Lakes and oceans, the Great Lakes Maritime Academy educates and trains deck and engineering officers for the commercial shipping industry. Located in Michigan, the academy uses a distinctive, hands-on learning environment to help maritime cadets progress faster. To help them learn the industry, the academy requires that cadets complete essential sea time aboard commercial ships.

A Sea Full of Challenges
Training merchant marine officers to sail the Great Lakes is extremely challenging and requires a combination of unique lesson plans and real-life experiences. It’s quite different from the experience at maritime academies that concentrate solely on ocean vessel voyages.

“To become a merchant marine deck officer from our academy is unlike any other maritime training program,” said John Berck, the academy’s director of enrollment management. “Commercial sailing upon the Great Lakes is an extremely complex process, with a multitude of complicated waterways that cadets need to learn firsthand. In order for our cadets to be fully prepared for coast guard licensing, extensive lab time, classroom time, training ship and commercial ship experience is required.”

To help provide this premier education, the academy previously used still images and simulation systems in the classroom to provide a glimpse of what the Great Lakes waterways actually looked like. However, with constantly changing weather, water conditions and river environments, the images and simulations needed constant updating.

Because this simulation comprised such an essential portion of the educational process, the academy realized it needed a more efficient method of getting this reallife, real-time information. The academy approached ROK Systems, which provides integrated IP-based premise security and process monitoring solutions, to help determine a fitting solution, preferably one with the ability to stream live video footage and gather data in real time.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an IT specialist, and I had no knowledge of what it would take to implement such a system or even where to start looking,” Berck said. “We’ve been on the forefront of simulation systems since the early 1970s, but when we approached ROK Systems, we were looking for creative, new ideas that could help us improve our real-life learning environment as we continued to grow and develop as an educational facility.”

High-definition video quickly became the answer. But there was one caveat.

“Our specification was that the video solution had to be high-quality while meeting our budget—a request that we knew might be challenging,” Berck said. “However, ROK Systems was able to quickly and easily develop the perfect solution for us with Axis Communications IP cameras.”

Creating a Simulation Voyage—in HD
Two years ago, the Great Lakes Maritime Academy dove into an initiative with ROK Systems and two partner companies—Milestone Systems for the VMS, and Axis Communications for the seaworthy network IP cameras—to develop and install a camera system that would help the academy gather visual data it needed for teaching maritime cadets.

“We evaluated several leading camera manufacturers for Great Lakes Maritime Academy, but Axis was truly best suited for both their unique environment and needs,” said Scott Kohsel, premise sales manager at ROK Systems.

During the first year, the academy worked to install the cameras properly on its training ship to find the best vantage point for gathering data. Now in its second year with the cameras, live video data is gathered while the ship is sailing.

ROK Systems installed four AXIS P1346 network cameras that enable 1080p HDTV and 3- or 5-megapixel quality, as well as offer automatic day/ night functionality, a major consideration for the drastically varying lighting conditions on a ship throughout the day. The camera’s P-Iris, or precise iris, technology enables the camera’s sensor to obtain just the right amount of light and create detailed depth of field regardless of whether a dark storm is on the horizon or the sun is high in the sky. In addition, the PoE feature means that the academy needs only one cable to carry power and video, while remote back focus allows installers to tweak the camera from a computer far from the camera, avoiding the hassle of someone having to ascend the side of the ship to get the ideal image quality.

“The megapixel picture quality that the Axis P1346 cameras provided was a perfect combination of value and best image possible,” said Chris DeYoung, account executive at ROK Systems. “In addition, the camera’s ability to remote auto-focus was a huge incentive to the academy. There is no easy access to climb up a side of a ship and refocus a lens when sailing out in the middle of a lake or ocean, so being able to remotely control the solution was incredibly efficient and presented extensive new options to the trainers.”

Two of the most important aspects of the IP video system are the ease of its installation and its flexibility features, which have allowed ROK Systems to create a solution in such a complicated, and potentially harsh, physical environment.

“Unlike installing cameras on a building, working with technology on a ship is extremely challenging,” Berck said. “The cameras that we chose had to be able to work with our unique ship design and still meet Coast Guard specifications for safety and control. ROK Systems was essential in arranging the installation and camera placement, assuring that our cameras all have optimal views at all times.”

“For a maritime project, there are strict regulations that must be adhered to, specifically where, and where not, the end user is allowed to drill holes or add technology to a ship. There are many aspects that need to be considered during the installation in order to ensure accurate vision from the cameras, including wiring and current technology placement,” DeYoung said. “We partnered with Feyen-Zylstra, a premier structured cable provider, on the installation to help run the wires after we determined cameras’ locations.”

A Sea of Data
The primary use of the new IP cameras is to record the waterways of the Great Lakes during the Academy’s annual training cruise so that video footage and data gathered can be used during both the real-time ship trainings and in the classroom, much as a flight simulator would help pilots and astronauts train.

The academy can view and record the entire transit, including three primary river systems, to give the cadets a realistic view of the approaches, specific waterways and lighthouses they will have to understand to navigate safely. With their expanded viewpoints from the cameras and the ability for two-way audio support with enhanced audio quality, engineers in the control room can use camera data while the boat makes its approach to the dock.

More than Just Educa tion As on any college campus, Great Lakes Maritime Academy also has security risks and concerns. But the risks the academy faces are quite unlike those the typical university deals with: It needs to keep wandering students and civilians away from a maritime security zone where a $40 million federal government training vessel is berthed.

Luckily, the cameras installed for training exercises are also easily deployed for more than just educational sessions. When the ship docks in the harbor, academy staff can monitor the harbor areas and be alerted to any potential security breaches, unauthorized people entering or other incidents, thanks to the cameras’ intelligent capabilities, such as motion detection, audio detection and a camera tampering alarm.

“While the security of our dock wasn’t a primary or intentional function of our cameras, we quickly real-ized that we could leverage them for more than just video recording and data gathering,” Berck said. “In a harbor area, you are vulnerable to different types of risks and need to be prepared. Based on the functional placement of the cameras on the ships, they are able to still record the entire gangway area while docked.”

Continuing to Sail Strong
With just about a year under its belt with using the IP camera system, the academy is already seeing immense results and is pondering future uses for the system.

One of the system’s major benefits is that it saves staff time and resources. Previously, in order to get images from the ship, a trainer or student would need to use a handheld camera, which would take away from that person’s ability to participate in other mandatory educational exercises. However, now staff can program the cameras to record automatically, so no person has to take time out of his or her own schedule. And, because staff can easily view and control the camera remotely, on-boat resources can be assigned other crucial tasks.

The video system also enriches the cadets’ educational experience and improves the entire academy’s training program, because cadets can gain accurate, hands-on data both in the classroom and on the ship. Data from an eight-hour voyage can quickly be cut to an hour of data, saving time for students and trainers alike.

“ROK Systems has been an amazing partner for us—from the brainstorm process, to the installation, to our continuing relationship today,” Berck said. “They have been more than willing to train new instructors on the system as they enter the academy and provide an open dialogue platform that enables us to receive customer support or recommendations whenever they are needed.”

The academy has already set up new high-tech projection systems and computers in its classrooms and lab facilities so students can access and use the video data in many different ways in any location. The academy plans to continue working with ROK Systems to test new ways to use the cameras.

“As technology changes in today’s world, we want, and ultimately need, to keep up and cater to this changing generation of students,” Berck said. “We are always willing to try new ideas and pride ourselves on being on the innovative forefront of the maritime industry, as this continues to make our program so appealing to merchant marine officers. With this IP camera system, we feel that we are finally able to best deliver our message to our students, faculty and the entire maritime industry—and that is what educational innovation is truly about.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Security Today.

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