Ship simulator overhauls sound system

AUTHOR: Inavate

HR Wallingford is a consultancy and research company specialising in civil engineering and environmental hydraulics, and in the management of water and the water environment.

The Maritime Department handles design projects within the maritime environment, and includes two real-time ship simulators at their headquarters in Wallingford near Oxford. The recent addition of a third facility instigated a major upgrade of the audio network which is now based upon Peavey’s MediaMatrix system.

The ship simulators play a vital role in port design around the world. They are used to simulate the navigation aspects of existing, redesigned or newly designed ports using simulated ships of all types. Thus, if a new ship type or size is to use the port, that ship can be modelled manoeuvring in a number of redesigned channels/manoeuvring areas and the feasibility of it operating safely in a range of environmental conditions can be assessed. Problems that need examination include optimising dredging requirements, optimal arrival and departure strategies, an assessment of the number of tugs required and an assessment of the optimal environmental limits for safe operation of each ship type.

The MediaMatrix system, which comprises a Nion nX32 programmable DSP network hub and two CAB 4n 8-in/8-out break-out boxes, was installed as part of a major overhaul and upgrade of the ship simulators, which included the addition of a third facility dedicated to the role of a tug simulator. According to HR Wallingford’s IT specialist, Ian Payne, who specified the system, the simulators are housed in what was previously a workshop complex, where installing new cabling can be awkward and time-consuming. “The overhaul included the installation of new CAT5e network cable to a central server room,” explained Payne, “so it was logical to look for an audio system that could make use of the same infrastructure and could be expanded with ease in the future. Part of the problem with adding a third simulator – with the possibility of a fourth – is the need to route every simulator to every other simulator to allow any combination to be used together, so four simulators would require six point-to-point links or a complex central analogue matrix.”

Payne praised the MediaMatrix solution, explaining, “lower cost systems just didn’t offer as many built-in processing algorithms and were incompatible with other vendors’ hardware. The other key factor was that it was straightforward to program and it was available immediately, as we had a very tight turn-around time.

“We installed and programmed the system ourselves,” recalled Payne. “We had an extremely steep learning curve to negotiate as we had just one week from unpacking boxes to having the entire system fully functional for a major project with important overseas clients. However, with the help of some excellent telephone support from Peavey, we got it all up and running perfectly within the specified time-scale.”

The system takes a series of audio inputs and routes them according to the training scenario on the day - instructor feedback, computer-generated background sounds (engine noise, wind, etc), simulated radio channels and trainee-to-instructor feeds. A selected subset of the sounds are also fed to speakers in adjacent “observation” rooms that have displays which show the other participants everything that is happening without disturbing those directly involved in a simulation exercise. One important process that Payne is particularly pleased to have introduced is a high quality limiter on all channels to ensure that no source accidentally overloads any eardrums.

Payne concludes by noting a significant increase in sound quality. “It’s a massive step up from the quality delivered by the analogue feeds that we had in the original installation. We’ve also been able to remove a lot of clutter, such as preamps that were only there to supply phantom power. The other big plus point is that the system is now completely configurable – we can use the ship simulators separately or in different configurations together, such as one ship with two independently controlled tugs, for example, pretty much at the touch of a button. Finally, the system is scaleable, which means that future expansion should be a painless and cost-effective process.”