At Maritime Academy, Sailing from the Comfort of a Classroom

What would it be like to run a boat aground on Ellis Island, hitting the Statue of Liberty at 40 knots? A new ship simulator powered by Lenovo technology is helping students at the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) experience just that, as well as other navigational challenges, without ever setting foot on a ship’s deck.

As part of the curriculum for more than 800 students, the MMA incorporates lab time in the simulator into a variety of courses. We caught up with Simulator Tech Jim Sanders and User Support Manager Will Martell to learn more about how MMA students are using this amazing tool, which is propelled by a backbone of Lenovo ThinkStation E20 workstations and ThinkServer TS130 servers.

Lenovo: How long has the ship simulator been around?

Jim & Will: The simulator dates way back to a time when it was simply used as a basic navigation tool. Since the early 1990s it has undergone several technical updates, and the MMA simulator we use now is the 4thgeneration of its kind. 

What technology powers the ship simulator?

Each instructor station has about eight to 10 ThinkStation E20 Workstations powering it, as well as one TS130 server. One of the larger stations has about 12 visual channels in the form of 55-inch flat screen LED panels.  Each of the 14 student stations has two ThinkStation E20 WorkStations and three monitors--one monitor depicts a navigation panel, one shows the visual plot of the boat, and the third shows the instruments.

How is the ship simulator integrated into the curriculum at MMA?

Students begin using the simulator in their sophomore year, usually during a class on Basic Navigation where they use the visuals (screens) to learn navigation skills, such as how to understand their location as it relates to a specific point on a paper chart. They also learn things like how long it takes to get from one place to another and the most efficient way to get there. Seniors and upperclassmen often use the simulator for more project-based work, their homework might be based on a scenario in which they are the captain of a chemical tanker and need to navigate the best route for taking their ship to New York City.

What advantages does the ship simulator provide to the students at MMA?

One of the best parts about the simulator is that you can pause it. If a student needs help understanding a specific aspect of the lesson, the professor is able to pause the simulation and explain the situation and allow the student to get their bearings. In a real boat, this would be impossible. This adds a great deal of flexibility in teaching and gives students the opportunity to ask their questions right when they arise.

Another advantage is that the simulator allows students to experience conditions they wouldn't necessarily get to--or WANT to--experience otherwise. You can set the simulator for a bright, sunny day or a dark, stormy night. Hurricanes, fog and rain are all conditions that students might experience in the ship simulator.

Isn't there just a certain level of "cool" that the ship simulator brings to MMA?

Yes. Pretty much everyone that comes to visit the MMA, whether they are a prospective student, or dressed up in a shirt and tie comes through and experiences the simulator. It is pretty funny sometimes to watch them experience it for the first time and try to compensate for motion that is not actually happening. Luckily, we haven't seen anyone with their head in a bucket...yet.

Sanders and Martell also mentioned that it is a highly popular activity to simulate crashes, and as fun as it sounds, they said that it is actually quite anti-climatic; there is no fire or smoke, no people jumping into the water. Rather, the simulator just stops. After all, the goal of this curriculum is to teach students how to navigate the waters successfully–hopefully, a simulated crash is as real as it will get.

Darcy Delph is a Sales and Product Training Developer for Lenovo Training Solutions.