Support: Sweating It Out On The Virtual Bridge

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March 24, 2007: The U.S. Navy wants to install NSST (Navigation Seamanship Shiphandling Trainer) simulators in up to a hundred naval bases over the next six years. NSST is basically a video game that is played out on an accurate mockup of the bridge of a ship. There is a 270 degree video system providing photorealistic images for the sailors to view out the windows of the bridge set. The "players" are the sailors and officer standing watch (on duty) while at sea. The navy has been using this technology for fifteen years now, but only in seven locations. Commercial shipping companies use the same gear. As computers, and especially computer graphics, have gotten cheaper, so has stuff like NSST. Currently, each NSST now costs about a million dollars. Graphics files that displays other specific coastal areas, or harbor areas, costs extra.

Normally, sailors and officers get most of their training on-the-job, at least as far as working together as a team, under realistic conditions. This is not a problem until the bridge watch team gets caught in a nasty storm, while in formation with other ships, or some other navigation emergency. Then, it helps to either have an old salt who's already been through this, or people have gone through it via NSST training. The fact is, not all the veteran sailors and officers have gone through rough weather as often as those who have spent some time on NSST. The simulator can recreate situations most sailors never encounter during an entire twenty year career, or might come up against only once.

American warships are spending more time in coastal waters, and this is where NSST can be exceptionally useful. Coastal waters vary enormously depending on the depth of the water. layout of the coast, and offshore islands and shoals. NSST files can created to show many different coastal areas, accurately and capable of being tweaked (day, night, different kinds of bad weather) for just about any situation.

NSST is accurate enough that the bridge watch teams going through it often work up a sweat. That alone burns in the lessons, and encourages the trainees to come back for more. Like all good video games, NSST captures every move the users make, the better to get an accurate critique of your play by the instructors.

 


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