It is not a secret that my favorite Dynamic Positioning Systems manufacturer is Kongsberg Maritime. Why? Because, despite the fact their DP Systems run off common windows based desktop computers, they aspire to the Apple model of good design, intuitive graphic interfaces and reliability. Their systems just work.
Take the new Kongsberg Seatex GPS based position reference system the DPS 112 pictured below:
As you can see the system has the good looks of a high end audio product and beauty is not skin deep for when you turn it on the enjoyment continues. The menus and graphics are simple, easy to navigate and graphically impressive.
Like a star NFL quarterback, the 112’s good looks come with seemingly effortless performance. The power of this product is it’s ability to integrate multiple systems, it does this first by accepting data from both GPS and Russian based GLONASS satellites. The integration of these systems means redundancy, if one constellation goes down you can still navigate with the other, and the ability to cross check both systems for errors.
Even with the ability to process more satellite data than any other marine positioning unit GPS itself isn’t perfect and requires corrections from differential stations ashore. This is where the DPS112 really shines as it integrates all known differential data sources, from free IALA and WASS to subscription-based corrections for surveyors.
The end result is a single latitude and longitude position that has been derived from a myriad of sources.
As much as I appreciate the reliability and accuracy of GPS data derived from the DPS112 it’s not exactly leading edge technology. The fact is, GPS is dated. Nations like the EU (Galilee) and China (COMPASS) have promised new and improved systems. Being satellite-based however, they will share many of the faults inherit in the USA-based GPS constellation. We need something new and revolutionary to position the next generation of high tech vessels. One program, eLoran, looked promising before it suffered a swift death in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
The reality is that governments are unwilling to spend money on the infrastructure necessary to improve positioning. For that we need to rely on the private sector and Kongsberg has stepped up to the plate with a host of new products including RADius:
RADius – Relative Position Reference System
Like Kongsberg’s HiPap and other subsea acoustic (i.e. sonar) based reference systems RADius can position a vessel from a number of passive transponders in the nearby area but, unlike, HiPap it can do so on land via solid state radar technology. This means that transponders can be mounted in harbors and thus improve DP reliability in high traffic areas or make one-button docking a reality.
The most exciting uses for the system have yet to been discovered but, no matter how RADius is ultimately deployed at sea, the future is bright with possibility.
DARPS – Differential Absolute and Relative Positioning Sensor
RADIUS is promising but requires the mounting of sensors on objects fixed to the ground… not much use once you venture out past the harbor. Enter DARPS which stands for Differential Absolute and Relative Positioning Sensor and, technically, uses UHF transceivers to determine relative position between vessels or between vessels and loading buoys. More simply it’s a way for two vessels to work in close proximity at sea.
The system could also improve the reliability of fanbeam, a laser based positioning system heavily used in the workboat industry for vessel-to-vessel docking in the open sea and will certainly be used by shuttle tankers to dock alongside FPSO’s.