What is Maritime Tipping and Cueing?
Tipping and cueing is a technique that uses satellite monitoring to identify and track large objects. The process begins with a low-resolution satellite sensor that scans a wide area, such as the ocean. After a “tip” has been generated, the data is relayed to a team or AI system that will “cue,” or send the information to a high-resolution sensor to get a better look at the object in question.
Understanding Tip and Cue Monitoring
The tipping and cueing process is designed to create a low-cost system for detecting and tracking large objects. Companies such as Windward’s partner, Planet Labs, have built nano-optical satellites that work 24/7, recording images around the globe. These satellites have two types of sensors, and combining them allows for wide-area coverage, rapid detection of potential events, and investigation of specific vessels:
- Tipping: this is the first part of the process, where wide-area surveillance sensors (usually on satellites, drones, or other high-altitude platforms) scan a large area to detect potential events or targets. These sensors are designed to cover vast areas but usually don’t provide a lot of detail. When a sensor detects something of interest—say, a heat signature or a suspicious movement—it generates a “tip,” or an alert that something worth looking into has occurred.
- Cueing: if the sensor detects a ship, it will send the “tip” to a higher-resolution satellite sensor to take a closer look. The higher-resolution sensor can then provide more detailed information about the ship, such as its size, shape, and location.
Without the right technology, cueing a moving object can be challenging, as the secondary satellite needs to know how fast the vessel is traveling and the general direction, so it can focus its sensors in the right area. Having a system that tracks the vessel in real time makes it significantly easier to complete the tipping and cueing process.
The Benefits of Tipping and Cueing in the Shipping Industry
The tip and cue monitoring system is used by large corporations, governments, and militaries for a variety of tracking-related duties. One of its most important uses is tracking and monitoring vessels on the open sea, or ocean. This information can be used to improve maritime safety, security, and environmental protection:
- Identifying and monitoring dark vessels: tipping and cueing allows companies to track dark vessels more easily. These ships, which turn off their AIS transmitters, are often engaged in illegal activities or trying to avoid sanctions, such as smuggling, or illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
These ships are often difficult and expensive to track. Tipping and cueing is a cost-effective method that doesn’t require a lot of manpower to aid in the search. By using the low-resolution satellite sensors, a company can scan a large area where the dark vessel is suspected of operating. Once it’s located and a tip is sent, only then will the more expensive, high-resolution sensor zoom in on the ship and gather all the essential information.
- Monitoring specific locations: when there is suspicion that a ship will carry out illegal or sanctioned actions at a specific place, like a terminal or port, it’s possible to receive an alert when the ship arrives and only then activate the more expensive high-resolution sensor for a close-up look at the illegal activities.
In addition to land-based monitoring, it’s possible to monitor ship-to-ship (STS) transfers, crude oil movements, and sailing in zones that are restricted due to environmental concerns.
- Support emergency crews: Tip and cue monitoring can also be helpful for emergency teams dealing with sea accidents. When tragedies strike, such as ships sinking, people falling overboard, or oil or other toxic materials spilling into the ocean, the emergency crews need reliable and clear information. The high-definition imagery provided by the second set of satellite sensors provides actionable intel that makes it easier to mitigate the damage, or save lives.
Tipping and Cueing Is Not Enough on Its Own
While there are certainly advantages to using the tip and cue system for tracking movement or helping locate dark vessels, it’s not perfect.
- It doesn’t work as well in bad weather: the system is designed around satellite images, and a cloudy or rainy day will obscure the images.
- There are not always enough sensors: the sensors have a specific path they monitor, which means it might take some time before it records the area you need, or the ship might be sailing in a blind spot.
- No real-time data: because you have to wait for the sensors to reach your specified location, you are required to look backward at previous images and wait until new images come through. This can be a problem if you need real-time intel to make a decision, or locate a vessel.
Due to these drawbacks, tipping and cueing is best used as part of a maritime domain awareness platform that solves these vulnerabilities. This platform will be able to
- Detect when a vessel disables its AIS transmitter and is operating in the dark
- Analyze zones or regions where illegal or sanctioned activities occur
- Add digital imagery to a map with layers for a ship’s position and activities
- Automatically sync timestamps with a ship’s location
By combining predictive analytics with tipping and cueing, you’ll have the added value of knowing when and where to focus your tracking, saving you time and money.