The innovative ways that technology can be used to assess the mental wellbeing of seafarers, was the subject of a webinar held the same week as World Mental Health Day in mid-October.
Organised by Safetytech Accelerator, the non-profit body set up by Lloyd’s Register and Lloyd’s Register Foundation to help foster innovative digital solutions to address safety and risk, the event featured a technology showcase where six different technology providers pitched their solutions for monitoring mental wellbeing to a panel of representatives from leading shipping bodies involved with seafarer welfare.
“We want this to be not just an event but a Call to Action.”
Keynote presenter Manit Chander, CEO of data analytics firm HiLo Maritime Risk Management, began by confirming that the negativity surrounding the pandemic had badly impacted seafarers, with 2 out of 3 of those worst affected not realising they needed help and only 1 in 6 actually seeking it. Stress-inducing factors aboard ship such as loneliness, limited free time, hard physical work and a ‘macho’ culture where feelings are suppressed all exert a ‘pressure cooker’ effect on seafarers, he said, which data can help with by identifying instances when seafarers need help and then by helping them access the tools they need in a non-intrusive way.
Then followed the Technology Showcase, moderated by Steve Price, Safetytech Accelerator Head of Partnerships, where a series of tech companies each outlined their different approaches and solutions as follows:
Scoutbase works by soliciting direct feedback from seafarers to a set of questions about wellbeing and safety, which can either be integrated through the crew wi-fi or as pop-ups on a seafarer’s personal device. In this way some 400 data points can be collected per vessel per month, it was explained, with an average engagement rate of around 80%. Data can then be analysed and visualised on a dashboard by shoreside management for care teams to act upon, with it also possible to use Scoutbase to track the implementation of resulting initiatives and their effectiveness.
Sensing Feeling is a smart system of visual analytics that uses CCTV cameras to observe behavioural patterns and then analyse them using Machine Learning. It can generate hourly stress and fatigue indices for individuals during trial scenarios, and monitor individuals’ performance in high-risk scenarios such as bridge procedures during watch handovers, activities involving the wearing of PPE equipment and in the machinery room, as well as providing surveillance of workflow patterns, any onboard accidents or falls and incursions by unauthorised personnel.
Care4C aims to improve the health and wellbeing of seagoing crews, thereby maximising performance and minimising accidents. It does this by focusing in on fatigue management and stress,as indicated by seafarers’ sleep patterns and heart rates. Wristband sensors send data via a low-energy Bluetooth link to a tablet in the messroom for recording and subsequent display on a dashboard for analysis by a shoreside team or the ship’s captain. In this way measures such as ‘sleep banking’ or ‘repaying sleep debt’ can be practised and the ‘disconnect gap’ bridged between shore and ship, says Care4C.
BlueSkeye AI is a spinoff from research carried out at the University of Nottingham which uses what it calls ethical Artificial Intelligence for the detection of medically relevant expressive behaviour, using face and voice sensing technology to detect conditions that could be linked to wellbeing problems. As yet untried in the maritime sphere, it is currently applied to improve wellbeing and patient outcomes in difficult pre-maternity situations in hospitals but importantly it is not a mental health diagnostic tool, point out its backers, but can be used to trigger alerts to employers when ‘just-in-time’ mental health support and intervention might be needed.
Litha Group is a UK-based start-up specialising in psychotherapy and conversational AI that uses a chatbot to encourage individuals to share their innermost feelings, including problems such as stress, depression or alcoholism. Described as a ‘personal AI psychotherapist’, the system can be used to track how people’s moods vary over time and hence any degradation of their psychological state.
Senseye is a start-up based in Austin, Texas whose technology examines the iris in the eye to detect muscle movements that connect directly to the brain and cognitive states. Originally developed for use by the defence industry to assess fitness for duty, the system can be used to detect, for example, dangerous levels of fatigue, intoxication or maladaptive signals of stress, says its advocates. Marine users might include not only seafarers but also dock workers and equipment operators.
A panel discussion followed, featuring Johan Smith, Project Manager at the Sailors’ Society; Colin Payne, CEO of the Nautical Institute Foundation; Ben Bailey, Director of Advocacy & Regional Engagement for The Mission to Seafarers; Richard Ballantyne, CEO of the British Ports Association; and Neil Dulling, HSE Manager at MOL LNG Transport (Europe). While all could see potential in the various systems, and expressed fascination over some of the technology involved, reservations were expressed as well.
Bailey, for example, noted that “seafarers value face-to-face interaction” with technology solutions “good, if only as an interim measure until they get to port.” The maritime industry also “still has a long way to go in investing in onboard connectivity,” he added.
Dunning agreed over the importance of the human element, commenting on the “lost sense of community” aboard ships in recent years and the need for captains to be ‘leaders’ onboard not paper-pushing bureaucrats.
Smith, author of Sailors’ Society’s pioneering Wellness at Sea coaching programme, raised concerns over eventual use of the data collected, the possible drawing up of mental health ‘blacklists’ by employers, and seafarer resistance to being watched ‘Big Brother style’. Different cultural backgrounds also needed to be taken into consideration, he pointed out.
Safetytech Accelerator’s Pilu brought proceedings to a close by inviting “anyone who wished to contribute to the work we’re doing towards solving mental health challenges using technology” to make contact, repeating his call to action “perhaps to innovate more in this space.”