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Heading for the Internet of Things Afloat---the what? Part 2

Wireless connectivity and the technology that drives it are pushing out in all directions, on land and at sea. Many of the marine applications are springing up aboard commercial ships, but as with other technologies they will eventually find their way on to recreational boats of all sorts. Here's a sample from a story we recently ran in Marine Electronics Journal. We published Part 1 last week.

By Ev Collier



The emergence of e-Maintenance some 10 or so years ago, in a variety of industries, notably in commercial shipping, set the table for the wireless maritime world and the Oceanic Internet of Things. E-maintenance is a maintenance management concept whereby assets are monitored continuously online using new and advanced sensors and sophisticated cloud-based diagnostics. Basically, e-Maintenance replaces traditional monitoring procedures with technologically based systems where predictive maintenance is accomplished with the help of remotely located data analytics and expertise.

There are several e-Maintenance software platforms on the market. One is MACSEA’s ship health monitoring system called DEXTER Suite. This is a computer-based system for data acquisition and analysis. Real-time data is gathered from an assortment of embedded sensors in key places throughout the vessel, including engines, energy and fuel efficiency, machinery health, electrical systems and even hull condition. Thousands of data points are analyzed and presented in terms of equipment performance profiles. While the shipboard DEXTER acquires, analyzes and stores data at an operational level, eDEXTER, a shore-side system, is used to view, compare and analyze the data from all vessels in the fleet, thus enabling fleetwide assessment and performance monitoring.                    


Oceanic Internet of Things

The term Oceanic Internet of Things (OIoT) seems to have originated with the Catalina Sea Ranch, developer of the first aquaculture facility in US-regulated waters. This organization developed an Internet-connected NOMAD (Navy Oceanographic Meteorological Automatic Device) environmental monitoring buoy, which serves as the Ocean Internet of Things platform to enable real-time monitoring of the seas surrounding their aquaculture operations. Collected data is transmitted to the cloud in real time for processing to analyze for trends, anticipate problems and develop mitigation and corrective actions. An open-hardware architecture and open-source software make it possible to integrate and test a wide variety of new sensors and innovative devices.                      

As you’d expect, there are many other projects planned or underway, spearheaded by the technologically inclined pioneers among us, a subsea observatory, systems for monitoring offshore oil and gas lines, bottom and wreck surveys, etc. There’s even a European research project focused on the Internet of Underwater Things that envisions submarine robots “talking” to each other in a language related to that of whales and. But it’s not just the oceanographic science community that is getting into the OIoT. There are currently active and ongoing programs to develop smart ships.                    


Smart ships

At the Smart Ship Development Forum in Shanghai in December 2015, China announced what it refers to as “the world’s first smart ship.” The vessel is patterned after the 38,800-dwt bulk carrier Green Dolphin and dubbed, i-Dolphin. The objective is to set up “a whole-ship information system” and achieve information integration and data sharing between all the systems and equipment on the ship. The system will feature remote monitoring, management, support and control by using onshore resources to improve the ship’s operations and safety.

The entire ship will be run on smart systems, including engine room equipment operation, performance analysis, predictive maintenance requirements and optimization. Also included will be vessel navigation operations and control. The smart ship is based on Big Data analytics and applies state-of-the-art information technology—real-time data collection, transmission and processing. Plans called for construction to begin in late 2016 and delivery in 2017.                        

Not to be outdone, South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries, together with Accenture, a global consultant in digital systems, announced in May 2015, the launch of OceanLink, a smart ship platform for the shipbuilding, shipping and onshore logistics industry that leverages the latest developments in Big Data technology. OceanLink will be combined with Hyundai’s pre-existing smart ship technology, officially launched in 2011. Hyundai’s existing smart ships systems are remotely operated with a group of engineers monitoring and controlling a vessel’s engines and generators, etc. This could become obsolete with OceanLink creating a variety of new functions based on the availability and analysis of incoming Big Data.


Onboard & in the cloud

Hyundai’s part of the system consists of the vessel itself, of course, but also the On-Ship Platform (OSP). The OSP consists of the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), the Alarm and Monitoring System (AMS), the engines and equipment management system (EMS) together with installation and interface connectivity of all of the necessary sensors to capture a wide range of information about the ship, such as its equipment, cargo and voyage, including location, weather, ocean currents, status of onboard equipment and cargo. Ship owners can monitor the vessel’s status in real time.                   

Accenture’s role will be the shoreside CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service). CPaaS is a cloud-based platform that enables real-time communications features such as voice, video, and messaging in unique applications that are highly adaptable. The objective is to enable visualization of the information in order for captains and owners to receive alerts and warnings and to optimize services by linking information among ship owners, vessels and port operators using Big Data.


Workboats, tugs & ferries

It’s not just the big vessels that are getting into wireless systems and the IoT. There’s a slick little system that was tested in the busy Oslo Fjord last year. Called REX, which stands for Route Exchange, this is an IoT-enabled route-planning tool that runs on standard commercially available mobile devices via a server on the vessel.

When routes are entered into REX, each ship’s technical profile is already there. REX reads the vessel’s onboard sensors, taking into account each ship’s characteristics, including how long it takes a vessel to accelerate and decelerate and provides real-time information to the captain, to other captains in the fleet and to the shore-based Sea Traffic Coordination Center, which, in turn, provides accurate ETA at each waypoint, closest-point-of-approach, route crossings and route optimizations. The system is ideal for many types of workboats and is expected to be installed on as many as 100 vessels that regularly transit the Oslo Fjord.           

According to Krystyna Wojnarowicz, co-founder and chief strategy officer at MARSEC Inc., Palo Alto, CA, REX is a modular system and price depends on the modules required/desired for the application and includes support services. A minimum configuration would cost about $5,000 per year. REX has already been installed on multiple commercial vessels in this country and in British Columbia.     


Signal K

Recreational boating lucked out, at least as far as the need to deal with Big Data—generating, transmitting, receiving, storing and analyzing it in real time. That’s not to say that we don’t stand to benefit greatly from this wireless revolution, specifically through the growth and expansion of open source software and hardware.

Signal K epitomizes this breakthrough for recreational and commercial boating. Signal K describes itself as a free and open source universal marine data model, a structure where every piece of information on a boat has a defined place, and is stored in a consistent defined way. The model holds data on multiple boats, yours and others, both locally and across the globe, acquired from various sources such as AIS, WiFi, Internet and so forth. It also holds other data such as cruising notes, charts, weather, notices, port data, etc.   

This model, or schema (architecture or structure), is a powerful key element of the system. Signal K takes NMEA data and many other types of data and places it into consistent, defined locations, a URL, if you will, in the schema. The specific data in a particular URL may change but that specific type of data retains the same address, or URL. New types of information get new and unique URLs.                   

Signal K is a real breakthrough, and, to my way of thinking, a great new tool for boaters and an opportunity for new revenue streams for enterprising dealers. Nick Heyes, CEO at Digital Yacht, thinks so, too. “That’s why we did the Kickstarter, to see if there was demand—and there was with over $100k last year, which allowed us to bring [iKommunicate] to market in short order,” he says. “It’s now available through our dealer and distributor network and sells for $299. Dealers are seeing it as the go-to interface to add to any marine electronics system—future-proofing a new install or offering additional connectivity for older systems.”      

Welcome to the Internet of Things Afloat!



About the author

Ev Collier is an electrical engineer, an avid cruising sailor and amateur boat builder. He was most recently director of technology for the Precision Materials Group at GTE. Collier is a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the American Boat & Yacht Council and National Association of Corrosion Engineers, and the author of The Boatowner’s Guide to Corrosion.



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