Ships in the Arctic and Antarctic are turning to using open source software that helps them navigate near or in sea ice-infested waters. This year, the tools are to be used by the Swedish icebreaker Oden, and at least one Antarctic tourist vessel. The software solution, part of EU-funded research projects, is being developed by European scientists.
“There are several more ships considering to use the software,” says Andrew Fleming, a researcher for the British Antarctic Survey, adding that it is too early to provide details.
Fleming is one of the developers of Icemar, outcome of the eponymous research project. The software is now a major component of Polar Ice, a follow-up research project also funded in part by the EU. “In the coming weeks, we will be testing the next version of the software”, Fleming says.
“The software is now much more refined”, says Fleming. One major improvement is providing access to up-to-date information on sea ice, with the software now capable of transmitting rich information over low-bandwidth networks. Ships navigating in the polar regions have great difficulties getting access to adequate communication networks.
According to Nick Walker, project coordinator for Polar Ice, the revision of the Icemar tools has made the software more robust and user-friendly, to meet end-user requirements. Polar Ice is also working on new components, such as visualisation tool that is designed to work on multi-platform tablet PCs.
Both Icemar and Polar Ice are projects organised by Polar View, an international consortium of research institutes and ICT companies working on marine operations in the polar regions.
Deciding to make the software available under the EUPL software licence came naturally, as most of the software used by the researchers is open source, says Fleming. “All of our work is underpinned by open source software. We also contribute code wherever we can.” So far, the researchers are the only software developers working on the Icemar/Polar Ice software. “When more ships start implementing it, we’d expect to get others to get engaged in the project.”