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Behind the Simulator: How NAUTIS environments are skillfully crafted

Rotterdam, 3 May 2018 – All NAUTIS users have the ability to navigate through realistic virtual environments during training sessions. These environments are made specifically to replicate real-life locations with the purpose of familiarizing seafarers with the area. VSTEP puts in a significant amount of effort to ensure the highest level of realism. Higher realism ensures trainees receive a true-to-life simulator experience. In this edition of Behind the Simulator, Ben Borrie, VSTEP’s Head of Content, will share a bit of information about the environments and how they are constructed.

NAUTIS Env. 1

Ben Borrie heads the content team in charge of creating the environments for NAUTIS.  Ben joined VSTEP in 2005 coming from a background of creating real-time 3d visualizations for Formula1 TV coverage. Ben has held several positions at VSTEP over the years, working as a developer, 3D artist, team lead and a project lead.  He was also half of the two-man team which created the new Ocean in the latest version of NAUTIS. Key to making environments is the NAUTIS Port Creation Tool, for which Ben is Product Manager.  This tool has been developed and refined over the past nine years to increase the accuracy, speed of development and visual fidelity of NAUTIS environments.

How many people are involved?

“Several departments are involved during the process of environment creation.  The process starts with Content Development, then Testing, Validation and finally the environment is sent to the delivery department. At least four employees are involved from development to validation, with large-scale projects demanding extra effort and a larger workforce.”

Does VSTEP use any special software for environment creation?

“All NAUTIS ports are developed by VSTEP using our proprietary NAUTIS Port Creation Tool. This tool generates accurate and visually compelling environments for use in NAUTIS maritime simulators. It is the culmination of many years worked focused on reducing the time required to create environments to the highest of standards.”

NAUTIS Env. 2

What is the most critical element in creating a new environment?

“When we start a new project, high-quality source data is critical. This data provides the building blocks upon which everything is constructed. The three key source data elements are the digital elevation model (for the creation of accurate terrain topography), satellite imagery (for the accurate placement of objects and terrain textures) and electronic navigation charts (used as reference for coastlines and for the creation of bathymetry).”

What does the creation process roughly look like?

“We usually start with the creation of the seabed and terrain. A chart is used to create the seabed and a height-map is used to create the terrain. Afterwards we start the texturing process. We use digital painting tools to paint materials, such as sand, soil or concrete in the appropriate places on the seabed and terrain.

NAUTIS Env. 3

When this is done we will start placing generic building models on the terrain using satellite imagery as reference. A library of several hundred generic buildings covering all common types and architectural styles is used to ensure these generic buildings represent reality. Finally, we place the landmark buildings which cannot be represented generically. These are buildings such as the Sydney Opera House, Statue of Liberty, various bridges, etc. They are custom created from reference photos and placed in the environment.”

When is an environment considered finished?

“The environment is only considered complete once it has passed through an extensive set of testing and validation procedures. This ensures that the environment is fully functional, accurate and visually representative of the actual location. Testing and validation is carried out by several subject matter experts including software testers, master mariners (qualified captains) and content developers.”

What are your thoughts on the future of NAUTIS environments?

“At VSTEP we always strive to deliver products of the highest quality. In the future we will focus on increasing automation, accuracy and visual fidelity. This is the best course of action for us as well as our clients.”

NAUTIS Env. 4

Our state-of-the-art NAUTIS products allow users to train their skills for every scenario possible in a practical, cost-effective and sustainable way. Training is available for navigation, towage, inland, naval, communication, and offshore purposes. The software at the heart of each NAUTIS simulator is optimized to deliver a realistic, true-to-life simulator experience.

“NAUTIS allows trainees to use simulation training to gain experience in ship handling, which they can then immediately apply in actual situations. We aim to develop simulators for maritime, safety and security professionals to train in a realistic environment, without the dangers, costs and time associated with traditional training. Our clients expect realistic environments and I am pleased to say that our team consistently delivers high-quality results.” says our CEO Henk van den Berg.


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