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OpenIVEF: unleashing the power of the VTS traffic image

The information about vessel traffic movements that VTS authorities compile in their VTS area is of great value for other stakeholders too. Sharing this information in an easy, open but controlled manner has been made possible by recent developments.

Whenever I sail into a port, I instinctively look around  for shore-based radar installations. I’m aware this is a sort of ‘professional deformation’, but the presence of a system gives me a safe feeling: eyes are watching over my fellow mariners and I. I know that ‘they’ are able to see me on their radar screens, when my small boat (without AIS) sails between larger vessels. The comprehensive traffic image that their systems compile is able to track all kinds of vessels, whether cooperative or non-cooperative – so this information is valuable for me, and for all stakeholders in a marine port.

Some port authorities provide stakeholders, such as shipping and transshipment companies, with specific information such as arrival times and actual positions of ships, all on request. In most cases this is a non-automated and time-consuming process that easily leads to miscommunications and delays. Until recently, the lack of an open standard for the exchange of information resulted in a costly and unsatisfactorily process.
 

A change in the wind

In 2006, HITT Traffic kindled up collaboration between all major VTS suppliers, which resulted in a recommendation for the International Organization of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) for one, non-proprietary, interface for the exchange of VTS data. It is expected that IALA will ratify this Inter-VTS Exchange Format (IVEF) by the end of 2010.

Standardization among all major VTS suppliers paves the way for innovative solutions to make the VTS information available to all stakeholders in the port. Fortunately, standardization does not mean the information is limited to the lowest common denominator of all suppliers. Optional fields enable a wide range of VTS systems, ranging from basic to very advanced. One system might be able to compute the length and width of ships and objects from the radar  echo, while another may use only the AIS values. To emphasize the openness of IVEF and to stimulate the development of software that supports IVEF, HITT has released its own implementation of the interface standard in 2008. This  Software Development Kit (SDK) – which resides at http:// http://www.openivef.org – has nearly tripled in size since then. The software is used by a growing number of developers, and has been downloaded over 600 times.
 

Not just a document

A number of VTS authorities actively use IVEF to exchange information with other parties. Like all main seaports of the Netherlands, almost all ports in the Shanghai area in China are actively using IVEF. In the Mediterranean area, France, Italy and Spain are in the process of developing similar capabilities.

HITT’s product line has supported IVEF since 2006, and during these years a considerable effort was taken to enable VTS authorities to authenticate users and filter who can receive which information. This is necessary to ensure privacy, maintain safety and security standards, and still leverage the open character of the protocol.

On the user side, a number of suppliers of port systems are using IVEF to integrate their products. QPS B.V., which specializes in HD satellite navigation, has developed a system that allows pilots to receive the traffic image on their portable piloting system, giving pilots access to the full traffic image, even at open sea. Earlier this year, HITT released an iPhone application that shows the live traffic image.
The future
It is clear that IVEF fundamentally changes the way VTS information can be shared. It unlocks the power of the VTS image to other stakeholders in ports and elsewhere, in an open and easy manner. In a couple of years, it will probably even be common for we amateur sailors to sail into a port and receive the VTS traffic image automatically. The future starts today.

Chris Lukassen, HITT Traffic, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands
Edition: Edition 47

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