British Antarctic Survey (BAS) researchers have created an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool that will enable ships to navigate in polar ocean conditions to more efficiently.
Developed by the BAS AI Lab, the new route planning tool will be used by the crew of the British polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough to make route planning decisions. It will recommend the fastest and most fuel-efficient routes between two locations taking into account all the polar conditions, such as sea ice, ocean dynamics, and weather. With their vast knowledge and experience of sailing around the icy continent, the Captain and officers can evaluate the options provided and select the best route.
Researchers have developed algorithms that make use of a wide variety of existing environmental datasets and forecasts to develop a navigational route planner that updates as conditions change, just like an in-car navigation system. The system will be able to look ahead and predict environmental conditions over an entire research season of up to six months, allowing long-term seasonal route planning.
“We’ve created something that is very similar to the kind of in-car navigation system like Google maps that many of us use already, but with the added complication that in the ocean there are no roads, and the conditions are constantly changing, which affects the routes between destinations,” says Professor Maria Fox, from the BAS AI Lab who leads the project. “The key driver here is to create something that reduces the ship’s carbon emissions and makes our science more efficient. We’re really excited about this open-source project which we think will be of value to all ships operating in the polar oceans.”
During the first stage of the project, the tea will develop a tool that can optimize route planning for carbon efficiency. This route planner is, therefore, a key piece in the puzzle in helping BAS achieve its aim of being net zero by 2040. As the tool develops, the team will integrate more live data from the ship – such as speed and fuel requirements in different conditions – to refine the model and improve route efficiency even more. They are also planning to eventually integrate science and logistics tasks into the planning tool.
“This innovative new tool is going to help us ensure RRS Sir David Attenborough remains as fuel efficient as possible, I’m particularly excited to see how it performs around the ice. There are many systems out there that can give weather routing in the open ocean, but this tool is unique by adding the capability to consider ice, allowing us to reduce our fuel usage and environmental impact during the field season,” says Captain Will Whatley, Master of RRS Sir David Attenborough.
Integration with onboard systems on the SDA began in November of this year.