Article published in Finnish newspaper Länsi-Suomi
On the 21st of July 2022, Finnish newspaper Länsi-Suomi featured an article written by Janne Lahtinen, one of RELAR partners from Satakunta University of Applied Sciences. A full English translation follows:
Due to the corona pandemic, the word telecommuting has landed on the nation’s lips scarred by heat waves. With remote work, you don’t have to travel to the workplace, it becomes easier to balance family life and work, and if it’s an established remote work relationship, you can also choose your place of residence regardless of the employer’s location. Remote work has many good sides, and the benefits for the employer are also evident when, for example, the need to organize office workspaces is eliminated with remote work. We enjoy remote work at home as an alternative to the workstation assigned to us by the employer. However, remote work can mean something else, and the journey there may take the employee far from the corner of the living room.
Many work tasks require physical presence still far into the future. Remote diagnostics and management of modern technical devices is a reality, but a large part of the solutions that make our lives easier was created in the time before the microchip. A shipping container is a familiar sight to us all. The tin box was introduced in the 1950s to streamline logistics chains as a unified transport unit, and it has genuinely changed transportation. Today, the vast majority of general cargo is transported in containers, and the transportation of dangerous goods as an article is no exception.
Only a few percent of shipping containers are illuminated during the transport chain. The certainty of container contents is primarily based on trust in the container stevedore. Although narcotics, weapons and even people are smuggled in containers, their challenges are usually more mundane. At least for now, the only way to ensure that a sea container is risk-free for the cargo it contains and for the environment is to have it inspected by a person.
The external markings on the shipping container tell, among other things, the weight of the container, the owner and the cargo it contains. When transporting dangerous substances, the four-digit UN number indicates which dangerous substance it is. Based on the number, instructions are available for operation in the event of a package leak, various exposures, or a fire situation. When evaluating the safety of a container, the challenge is the number of substances to be transported. Therefore, there are an equally huge amount of UN numbers. There is a vast spectrum of substances, from corrosive, toxic, explosive and self-igniting chemicals to radioactive substances. All of them are transported in containers, and training a single person to recognize the possible risks of any container or act in an emergency is practically impossible.
Satakunta University of Applied Sciences is a partner in the RELAR project (REmote Learning system based on AR in maritime VET education) that explores enabling remote diagnostics supported by AR-augmented reality technology. The project has chosen a sea container containing a dangerous substance as a use case. Augmented reality technology means feeding digitally produced information and visual observations into human sensory channels at the same time. The US Air Force has used augmented reality in fighter pilots’ helmets. The pilot cannot see the enemy plane hiding below his aircraft due to the fuselage’s structure. The blind areas are covered with the help of radars mounted on the plane’s fuselage. Digital imaging of the surroundings is brought to the pilot’s visor as augmented reality with the help of computer graphics. In this way, the pilot has a complete snapshot of the reality surrounding his plane. SAMK’s research does not fly quite as high, but increasing the safety of the shipping container and smoothing the transport chain has a recognized added value.
In the research of the RELAR project, the test person evaluating the safety of the shipping container wears glasses equipped with a network connection. A person elsewhere can establish a voice and camera connection to the glasses, seeing and hearing the same things as the wearer. When examining the container, the user of the glasses can receive instructions not only by voice but also as documentation via a display screen placed in the field of vision of the other eye. At a distant point, a colleague on a computer searches for information based on the UN number transmitted by the glasses’ camera and transfers it to the working couple’s glasses. The container inspector can keep both hands free and at the same time look at his actual operating environment and the visual and auditory instructions sent to him by his co-worker, for example, on how to act in the event of a leak in the cargo package.
It is clear that SAMK is not going to revolutionize the world of container logistics, and that is not the intention. The benefit of new applications consists of small streams, and the production of added value does not require renewing the entire process. Fast internet connections have enabled remote working, but what opportunities do new technologies offer for the smooth completion of tasks that require physical presence? Remote work can be much more than a laptop in the corner of the living room. By improving information transmission and communication, it is also possible to significantly improve the handling of conventional safety-critical work tasks. One person does not know everything, but luckily we can be wise from far.