When you're learning to operate supply vessels bringing equipment to oil rigs, you begin by spending a fair amount of time on land, simulating the tasks that you're going to be performing live on water.
Offshore Simulator Centre
Offshore Simulator Centre AS (OSC) in Norway is the world's most advanced provider of simulation tools that help ship crews prepare for their real tasks, such as anchor handling and oil rig supply operations. The entire OSC platform is illustrated in the diagram below, the various parts of which will be outlined through the rest of this article:
When you visit OSC, you're shown a pod where conditions that crew members are likely to encounter are simulated. Some crew members will be in command of the vessel, while others will be upfront working on the unloading of equipment from the vessel onto the rig. In training sessions, those who will be in command of the vessel sit in the seats shown in the picture below, while those working with the equipment situate themselves up front.
In pods such as the above, 4 participants constitute the crew and are trained simultaneously in the simulation pod.
Right outside the pod, instructors monitor the technical decisions made by the crew, as well as the communication between participants. The instructors include ship captains with real experience of the kinds of conditions that the crews are likely to need to confront.Below, the monitor on the left shows the instructor application, providing a global perspective on the goings on within the pod, while on the right, the simulated rig is shown, sharing the view of those within the pod:
The instructors can throw unexpected variations into the simulation, such as rain...
The participants training to work on deck use joysticks in a Wii-like environment. Instead of playing golf or guitar hero, they pretend to be on board the boat, handling the typical tasks that crew members need to manage:
Interaction between the crew members is also monitored, since participants are able to cross from separate screens into a shared area, as shown above, where they co-operate on predetermined tasks.
Technical lead Arne Styve says:
As you can imagine, looking at the various components above, the system is very complex. It consists of more than 30 PC's in a distributed setup, with interfaces to real hardware (levers, buttons, lights etc.), and an advanced 3D gaming engine for realistic out-of-the-window experience.
At the same time, OSC is strongly focused on the intellectual property invested in the software being developed, finding it important to invest in currently existing technologies, languages, and platforms that are platform independent, widely used, and, as far as predictable, technologies that will be available for a long time to come.
To reinforce that, OSC stays really true to this, and developers use a mix of development computers; some on PC's running Linux, some on PC's with various versions of Windows, and some on MacBookPros running MacOSX.
Everyone develops in standard Java (pure-Java) using NetBeans IDE and Maven2, ensuring that no project has any parts to it that depend on a specific developer's setup.
Below, you see the instructor's application, which is one of the applications developed in this way. Via this application, instructors have full control of the training scenario being simulated. Instructors can introduce alarms, faults, and unexpected conditions to trigger stressful situations for course participants.
Instructors can also take control of the vessel, play the role of rig crane operator, and monitor forces working on the different vessels.
This application has been around since 2006 and will be moved to the NetBeans Platform by the end of 2012.
Meanwhile, this particular application is on the NetBeans Platform already. It is is a Rig Crane simulator designed for training personnel that are required to operate cranes onboard oil rigs/platforms.
Rig crane operators require certified training according to international standards. The crane simulator, which is based on the same platform and technologies as the offshore simulator, includes the crane, the rig with defined loading zones, a PSV (Platform Supply Vessel) with cargo, and deck crew (signal man and banks man). The deck crew are operated in the same way as in the offshore simulator, but can in addition give hand signals such as "heave", "lower", and "stop". They can also inspect the cargo for defects and similar activities.
The first installation of the crane simulator was at Rogaland Craneschool outside of Stavanger, where a full-scale rig crane cabin (donated by BP) was interfaced to the simulator, and built inside a 7m dome display solution.
What makes the NetBeans Platform well suited for these applications is all the ready-made features needed by any desktop application. For example, there are the interconnected views, the detachable windows, the concise and flexible action system with menus and toolbars, and maybe most important of all, the plugin/module system.
The advanced plugin system lets us develop functionality in smaller, manageable components that can be provided to customers depending on the type of training they're needing. It also provides a flexible way of upgrading software to customers. The plugin concept will be widely adopted in our software systems for interacting with our simulators.
Recently, the engineering team working on the simulation software described above underwent an intense training course, introducing them to the NetBeans Platform.
Some already had quite some experience, while others were confronted with the NetBeans APIs for the first time.
That's often how NetBeans Platform courses turn out—the purpose of the training is to get everyone, regardless of their background, on the same page in terms of NetBeans Platform knowledge. After the course, sharing a similar background of NetBeans API knowledge, the team have a common language to talk about their software challenges in relation to the NetBeans Platform.
Here's a picture of the class during a group exercise:
In conclusion, the OSC platform is a broad framework of simulators for learning the tasks involved in and around oil rigs. It's interesting to see where software fits into the picture and what kind of software is best suited for the task. Looking forward to hearing about further developments taking place at OSC!