IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - January 2020 - 47

by Yanghui Tan, Chunyang Niu,
and Jundong Zhang

S

imulation technology has been used to train
marine engineers for decades. However, traditional marine-engine training systems
(METSs) possess low immersion levels that
seriously limit their effect. To overcome this
problem, we developed a head-mounted, display-based
immersive virtual reality (IVR) METS based on HTC Vive
Pro hardware. Like the traditional METS, it has training
and automatic evaluation functions. Moreover, it can
reproduce, with high degrees of immersion, all of the
details of a real ship engine room and vividly simulate
emergency scenes, such as a fire, so that trainers can perform various operations as though they were in the real
environment. Thirty students majoring in marine engineering at Dalian Maritime University, China, were selected
to test the system. The results showed that the headmounted, display-based immersive VR METS had many
advantages compared to the desktop VR METS.
Research Background
It is the consensus of the international community that
marine engineers should receive professional marine
engine-room simulator (MERS) training before working on
ships [1]. Generally, there are five current ways to train
engineers (Figure 1), including classroom teaching, training on 2D desktop MERSs [2], [3], instruction in a semiphysical MERS [4], preparation in a land-based MER, and
training on board vessels.
Marine engineering is a practical specialty with high
requirements for practical experience; however, for those
seafarers whose theoretical knowledge is generally not
sufficient, classroom teaching is too abstract to learn. The
2D desktop MERS is a simple visualization of the system
principle; it plays an important role in helping trainees
understand a real ship's system logic [5], but its lack of
immersion makes it impossible for trainees to recognize
the condition of an actual MER [6]. The semi-physical
MERS builds on the 2D desktop version; it incorporates
physical entities to simulate the equipment in the MER,
such as the local control boxes, engine-control console,
and main and emergency switchboards. However, it can
only use dynamic system diagrams to demonstrate the
principles of complex networks. The semi-physical MERS
creates a 3D environment of the engine control room with
a high immersion level that has a much better training
effect than that of the 2D desktop MERS.
The land-based MER is built in a laboratory that is similar to a ship. Due to the inclusion of real marine equipment,
the cost of constructing land-based MERs is almost equivalent to building an MER in an ocean-going vessel. Therefore,

to reduce costs, a compromise is to build a land-based version of a small ship's engine room to simulate that of a large
merchant ship. In terms of equipment, smaller and secondhand apparatus is generally adopted. Although the machinery in a land-based MER laboratory is small, its training
effect is much better than that of the semi-physical MERSs
due to its environmental similarity to the true-life version.
Unfortunately, with increasingly stringent emissions re strictions, most of the land-based MERs cannot operate
normally and meet the immersion requirement [7].
On-board training enables students to learn on real
ships as interns and is the most efficient teaching method,
but we also have to pay attention to the huge cost and
potential safety problems related to it. Besides, the premise
behind this method is that there must be a suitable training ship, and because of the high cost of construction and
operation, most maritime institutions do not have their
own teaching vessels [8]. Therefore, it is difficult to realize
a true MER environment for most students.
VR technology uses computer-graphics theory to simulate the real world [9] by establishing 3D virtual objects.
Users can interact with the virtual world through input
and output devices. Unlike the real world, their vision,
hearing, touch, taste [10], and so on are illusions that lead
them to believe that they are in a genuine environment.
The METS based on VR has the potential to be a useful
learning tool for marine engineers.
Classifications of VR METSs
Desktop VR METS
The desktop VR METS is a general VR training system
based on a computer, desktop monitor, mouse, and keyboard.

Onboard
Land-Based ER
Semi-Physical
Simulator
2D Desktop
Simulator
Classroom
0

1

2

3
Effect

4

5

Figure 1. The effectiveness of the five traditional

training methods for marine engineers.

Ja nu a r y 2020

IEEE SYSTEMS, MAN, & CYBERNETICS MAGAZINE

47



IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - January 2020

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