Project description

What happened when the Norwegian warship KNM «Helge Ingstad» crashed into a tank ship?

By using a combination of sea charts, terrain maps, radar data, pictures and the sound log from the maritime traffic center, Norwegian newspaper VG visualized the incident where Norwegian warship KNM «Helge Ingstad» crashed into a tank ship. Our main goal was to give as clear an idea as possible of the crash. Which vessels were involved, how crowded was the fjord, and what did it all look like? Our simulation attempts to show how lights from the Sture Terminal affects sailors, how the different vessels will look in the dark and what the sense of space would be at night / in daylight.

VG then used the obtained data inside gaming engine Unity to simulate the crash. VG also got hands on the sound log from the accident, which is embedded in the interactive experience. Through the combination of immersive storytelling and graphics we gave our readers the most updated insights about one of the biggest breaking news events in Norway last year.

You can even try to steer the warship yourself in our simulator based on the exact scenery, sea levels, positions and time stamps of the involved ships.

For while the lifting action was ongoing and the Minister of Defense waited for the official accident report, editorial developer Einar Otto Stangvik could show the Norwegian people what happened when the frigate Helge Ingstad collided.

The huge news story was visualized with interactive graphics, animated video and a dedicated game version where VG’s users themselves in a realistic way could try to navigate the vessel away from the oncoming ship.

What makes this project innovative?

The mix of sources, content types and detailed use of data gave our editorial team a new set of challenges and insight, and made it possible to present the story with unique visualization and precision level. While Unity lays out the groundwork, getting it all to play out nicely required a lot of work. Near the center of it all was a custom time engine, to keep track of gps locations for the various vessels, and speed / heading interpolation to move them in realistic paths through the water. The warship’s locations were not available through any source, so it’s course was plotted from a manually time-synced radar plot. This resulted in a plausible point of impact as well as vessel orientations at the time. Height and depth data was extracted from several sources and combined, then used to create a fairly accurate 3D representation of the entire fjord’s seafloor, to give a sense of where the big vessels would have safe passage. Lighting conditions, sun and moon placement, were replicated to the best of our abilities, as well as the vessels’ different lights. This was crucial for viewers to understand what could (and couldn’t) be seen late that night. In addition the game mode gave users insight to the accident in an educational and engaging way. This way of telling a news story really was innovation in the newsroom.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The level of details and user friendly visualisation in which this accident was recreated even amazed the head of the Accident Investigation Board. So much so that he during a press conference presenting the accident report asked a VG reporter which genius had made the reconstruction. It was a feedback we very much appreciated - along with the actual figures. The site has more than 700 000 page views. The video alone has more than 500 000 started streams with more than four minutes average viewing time.

Source and methodology

From different governmental services VG were able to collect height data for the nearby land as well as sea charts, depth points, shallows, curves and so forth for relevant part of the ocean. The different datasets were combined using various interpolation procedures in the Grass GIS software, then exported as a detailed heightmap and imported to Blender 3D. Blender, which is a modelling tool, was used to generate a 3D surface of the georeferenced height data. Several relevant buildings were also modelled into the terrain. The end result was a georeferenced 3D object with accurate depths and heights. Textures generated from high resolution satellite images gave the terrain recognizable features. MarineTraffic was used to retrieve positions for the tracked vessels. Ingstad was manually plotted based on the radar readings. To verify the frigate positions, the resulting path and time points were used to calculate speed and acceleration, which were in turn compared with vessel specifications. The point of impact was estimated by careful review of images of the two involved vessels, their specifications and witness accounts.

Technologies Used

Software: QGIS (GIS: Geographic Information System) Grass GIS Blender 3D Unity 3D Programming languages: C# (within Unity), Python (tools to process data files such as depth plots and gps positions) C (custom GPU shader to simulate vessel lights) Unity is the core technology for the end result. It’s a game engine, which accepts various model formats and makes the presentation process easier. Map data, gps/time readings and so forth were imported into custom built tools within Unity, which in turn would move vessel 3D models around the simulation space.

Project members

This project is submitted on behalf of Einar Otto Stangvik, Tom Byermoen, Oda Leraan Skjetne and Endre Alsaker-Nøstdahl.

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