The Digitisation of Polarstern – The First Digital Twin of a Research Vessel

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Since 1982, the icebreaker “Polarstern” has been the emblem of German polar research and the flagship of the Alfred Wegener Institute. In September 2019, the Polarstern started the largest research expedition ever to the Arctic, the MOSAiC project. The expedition aims to better understand the influence of the Arctic on the global climate. During the project, scientists from 17 nations will live for over a year on the Polarstern, which is frozen in the Arctic Ocean, in an almost inaccessible region.

As the MOSAiC project shows, a multicultural community is working on Polarstern. Due to long-lasting projects like the MOSAiC project, Polarstern may even be absent for more than a year. As part of the preparations for research projects, DiConneX GmbH has been commissioned by the AWI to digitally map the Polarstern using the most innovative methods.

By mapping & scanning, DiConneX created a Digital Twin to coordinate research activities of the Polarstern. This gives the researchers, who come to Polarstern from all over the world to make their arrangements for the multi-million dollar equipment, virtual access to the Polarstern to plan their expeditions.

Copyright: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Stefan Hendricks

The Research Icebreaker Polarstern

Commissioned in 1982, the flagship of the Alfred Wegener Institute covered more than 2.7 million kilometers in 2014 and is still one of the most efficient research icebreakers worldwide. It is mostly in use for over 310 days a year and averages 92,600 Nautical miles back.

With its 20,000 hp, the icebreaker easily paves its way through ice up to 1.5 m thick. It is prepared for temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius and is equipped to spend the winter in the ice of the polar seas if necessary.

Copyright: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Mario Hoppmann

How DiConneX Created the Digital Twin of the Polarstern

The best time to photograph Polarstern was during a crossing from Bremerhaven to South Africa in autumn 2018, during which Polarstern was refueled in Las Palmas. During this time it was possible to digitize the Polarstern. Therefore, DiConneX set out to perform mapping & scanning inside the Polarstern using NavVis technology and a Faro 3D laser scanner.

Within 3 days, the DiConneX team digitized more than 80% of the ship. The focus was on all areas that are important for the researchers and the prior observation and planning of the expeditions. This includes, for example, the engine room, research rooms, common rooms, bridge, and chambers.

The Result Is Impressive

DiConneX has managed to provide an intuitive tool for researchers with a specially developed user interface. DiConneX provides a networked and efficient tool to visually access the Polarstern from anywhere in the world. The so-called “digital twin” ensures that all necessary information is accessible at all times using a practical web application.

How the Researchers Use the Digital Twin of the Polarstern

The digital twin now enables navigating around all the main areas, measuring distances, and accessing information about specific rooms and components on Polarstern. And all over the world. From any terminal device. In this way, the researchers can gain advanced insight into the living situation, the technology, and the space they need for their instruments. With this digital accessibility, we are already able to reduce the costs many times over before a project begins on Polarstern. To date, we have already recorded over 2,500 accesses by researchers to the digital twin.

Easy navigation

Sharing information points

Perform measurements

The main advantage here is the reduction in travel costs. Of course, this form of “remote planning” is also a sensible use case in buildings. Contact us and we will find the right use case together with you.

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