Charting a course to safer seafaring

All aboard...and all a part of a human cyber-physical system.

01 August 2023

Technology has become a key part of the maritime industry and, for shipping, this means digitally enabled systems. From devices that monitor systems such as propulsion and environmental conditions, to marine radars that track how a ship moves through ice, there are metrics for everything – but not necessarily the crew. The focus is on inanimate assets, “yet people are still critical to shipping, making sure that ships go out and complete their missions successfully,” says Nicole Taylor, a PhD candidate in Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University. “I’m interested in the human factor, but also how technology can help people. We call it human-systems integration – how we can make technology benefit people when they’re working.” 

Taylor’s research sits under the university’s Mechatronics, Automation and Design (MAD) Research Group, as well as the Sound and Vibration Research Group, which works closely with the SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s ice-going polar supply and research vessel. As part of Taylor’s PhD, she went on a research trip with the vessel to get an understanding of how people experience the environment – the ship – while at sea. “We also measure the ship’s responses and compare the two. A big part of my PhD is trying to hone into the fact that individuals matter.”

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