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Smart-phones, AIS, and social networks

Discussion in 'Electronics' started by chuckb, Oct 2, 2012.

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  1. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    I'm developing an app that has significant potential impact for the maritime community, essentially an AIS surrogate that runs on smart-phones. We're not ready for release yet, but have started to introduce the concept to the public to get feedback.

    An upfront disclaimer: I know that posting things that could be considered promotional is not allowed, and I am a company owner with a product roll out planned. I checked with Carl about opening this thread and his response was that since I’m a senior member it would be ok… but I want to be clear I’m looking for comments and feedback as opposed to trying promote a product.

    OK, here’s the top-level description of what’s being called “Smart Chart AIS”. It will be a free app for Android and iPhone (released in the US initially), providing free NOAA charts, free weather overlays (Nexrad), an AIS surrogate over cell (currently termed AIS Class E - developmental), social network functions (chat, share pics, points of interest, etc), ActiveCaptain, and more. The full website is under development and I’ll post it when available, release is currently looking like 1st quarter 2013.

    A couple key points: This does not run over VHF and is not part of the IEC AIS standard. It will support MMSI numbers but not require them, indeed AIS Class E will require both a User ID and a Vessel ID. This enables the user with one phone and several boats flexibility, and likewise the large yacht with multiple crew/phones flexibility. I’ve briefed both RTCM (the US body that gets involved in IEC and IMO issues) and NATO’s maritime folks with generally positive feedback.

    This is not intended to replace formal AIS, but instead help the smaller traffic out there see and be seen. We do intend to put the protocols into the public domain, will encourage other companies to utilize the capability (both with smart phones, PCs, and chartplotters), and anticipate a formal cellular based standard to be adopted at some point in the future.

    So, here’s what I seek comment on.

    I think there could be a variant of the Smart Chart AIS App specifically targeting the Megayacht market, keeping the crew and guests connected, tracking all the toys and people inbound/outbound or ashore, supporting security, and so forth. In essence a private social network tailored to the maritime environment. Unlike the “free” version for the public (which will be funded by add-on apps supporting things like fishing tournaments, regattas, and the like), the megayacht app would be a custom tailored solution, with a corresponding price tag.

    I could go on… but will stop there. What does the Yachtforums community think?

    Chuck
  2. Norseman

    Norseman Senior Member

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    My initial reactions is that we are already in over-load on apps and social networks and gizzmos and toys.

    That being said, I am still open minded to what this app will do and if it is useful in everyday life.

    About the only app I use while sailing is the weather radar; It shows what is coming and from what direction and when it will end.

    Got an example of how your app will be useful..?

    (Not being negative here, just did not understand what the app will do, perhaps your posting had too much information)
  3. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    More detail

    Good question... I don't want to sound like a guy hawking his goods... but here's some thoughts.

    I did forget to mention that it also includes an Augmented Reality capability, hold the camera up and there will be overlays of where buoys, other traffic, ActiveCaptain points of interest, and so forth. Great for fog or at night.

    If you have no backup to your primary navigation system, if you worry about what “the other guy” is doing; if you ever have to operate in reduced visibility (fog, rain, snow, night time), if you just want to know where the cheapest fuel or the best restaurant is, or if you ever had to call the Coast Guard or tow boat for assistance, this app will support that. Even if you like to ride on OPBs (other people’s boats) you can bring Smart Chart along.

    For boaters with limited navigation and safety equipment onboard Smart Chart provides a game-changing suite of capabilities that requires no installation, other than downloading the app and registering your device. This includes tenders and the like. In fact, the less navigation and safety equipment you have onboard, the more you will benefit. (However, users should be aware of the limitations of small displays and never rely on this system as the sole means of safe navigation. As with any marine electronic system, Smart Chart does not reduce or eliminate the need to maintain a proper lookout and carry updated paper charts as a reliable back-up for navigation information and position plotting.)

    Also, this is being supported by the US government... they are interested in public safety and see this as filling a gap. If you search for AIS Class E there are some links that go into this in more detail.

    The preceding addresses the more general application of the app. My question to this community is whether this makes sense for the crewed yacht environment as a tool to provide better service to guests by giving them a direct connection (on demand) that helps them get the most our of their yachting experience.

    Hope that helps!
  4. Ken Bracewell

    Ken Bracewell Senior Member

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    I would recommend a beta test to better determine that. It sounds interesting, but I think I would need to "hold it" in my hands to offer better input.
  5. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Thats in the works... I'll PM you when we're to that point if you'd like. Chuck
  6. AlfredZ

    AlfredZ Senior Member

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    How does processing work with overlays and data? How fast? Would it work on any data package or it will suck the limits up?

    It should be a nice solution, best of luck.
  7. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Augmented Reality overlays

    The AR overlays are layered, you can turn different content on or off. There are navaids, and a filter for depth of view (in a river you don't want to see overlays to the horizon, but offshore you do). AIS (A, B & E) targets. Routes, zones and points of interest. And lastly the ActiveCaptain data.

    Generally we have to write an interface to get the data into the AR views. Each case has been a little different, in past other work we've managed to slave to ECDIS and ARPA content though NMEA protocols. Likewise, content from ArcGIS (the chart/map engine used in most government geographic work) we can get at easily. But AR only works for some stuff, for instance a weather radar return is pretty hard to project into 3D and have it make any sense.

    The fun thing with the phone is one can see an AR overlay of where your boat is through the camera, even if its dark or foggy. Or locate a guest and what dock s/he is waiting to be picked up at. Its good for security apps too... such as where the 500 yard stand off is for a military vessel. Same for channel boundaries and the like. AR is simply a display technology, thus it is only valuable if it shows useful content. Anyone have ideas for what else makes sense to show?

    Chuck
  8. AlfredZ

    AlfredZ Senior Member

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    What is the estimated/projected packet size and length? This is the short form of my last question.

    When you say through the camera, you mean an overlay to the camera's image based on GPS location?
    In the 500 yards example, you are assuming the navy will broadcast their data? Because they mostly run in stealth modes.

    This should be a nice application. Good luck with it.

    Regards,
    Alf
  9. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Packet size is pretty small for the updates (hundreds of bytes), and will get smaller as things get optimized. We also have some specialized algorithms to manage traffic when things are busy.

    Yes, overlays are based on GPS position. For the navy situation, when they are in commercial traffic areas they often will turn on a signal, but I see your point. I have a son-in-law in the USCG that ran escorts at Groton CT, and keeping the recreational folks away from a sub certainly has its challenges!
  10. PropBet

    PropBet Senior Member

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    You had me at smart phone, and at AIS, but trying to mix (functionally) social networking in there is a bit of a stretch, however I may be missing something with the proof of concept.

    Please accept this reply as constructive input with my obvious lack of full understanding in the development you're doing.
  11. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Yep... social networking and AIS in the same sentence does cause most folks to go "huh?!" :rolleyes:

    Frankly, the term "social networking" is as much a marketing thing as a "function", but it helps in selling the concept. What I see as the social part of it is being able to use the app to identify who else you know is on the water (by bringing up your friends list), see where they are, coordinate with them on a maritime based app for things like where to rendezvous, and to pass the all important information (or disinformation) on hot fishing spots and the like.

    Its that sort of functionality that intrigues me in relation to the megayacht market. The guest could interact with the staff for upcoming meals/drinks while off playing elsewhere. And a suite of phones could create a great record of where everyone went, including geo-tagged photos and so forth. And other ideas.. the list goes on and on...

    Thanks for the input, it is truly valued! Getting such is why I put the post up in the first place!:D
  12. ArielM

    ArielM Senior Member

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    Seems like a good idea. forgive me but i dont fully understand all aspects of this app. Will it integrate with formal AIS? You mentioned that it will be through cell towers which is good but is there a way to also use the AIS while off shore and away from cell recpetion through the phone's GPS?

    Im all for consumer electronics in yachts. The computer/mobile phone/tablet electronics are way more advanced then the traditional raymarine, simrad etc electronics. The traditional electronics are also way over priced for what they delivered.
  13. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    The traditional AIS info will be echoed to AIS Class E devices off a server that gathers information from open source AIS sharing sites. At this point anyone on a vessel with traditional AIS will also need a smartphone or tablet to see the Class E traffic. One reason to put the protocol in the open domain is to allow the chartplotter folks to integrate directly to Class E, just as they do to Class A/B receivers.

    The cell coverage is a limitation, so this won't work offshore (or behind islands in Maine, where I cruise). But coverage is pretty good for the majority of the target boating community.

    Of course, for a megayacht outside of FCC jurisdiction, a wireless hub that covers several miles out from the yacht is quite feasible, although not practical in spots like Monaco or FL.

    Yes, but there's also the fact that the purpose built stuff is just that, purpose built. Much as I love my smartphone and tablet, a dedicated unit that supports integrated radar/charts/etc. is still what I want for larger vessel operations. That said.. a PC can load a lot of really great software that interfaces to black box type sensors.

    Wish I had a crystal ball and could see the bridge of 25 years in the future!;)
  14. Ken Bracewell

    Ken Bracewell Senior Member

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    Itp?

    Can this thing be operated via Internet? If its only based on cellular data, it will difficult to integrate to the non-US mega yacht market; cellular data roaming is prohibitively expensive for most crew and guests. My bills are regularly over $1000/mo in order to keep my same number.
    That being said, almost all large yachts have Internet access while aboard.
  15. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Yes... if there's an IP address then its good to go...

    ActiveCaptain started in the US, has a good following with the Aussies, and is getting traction in Europe. Their app is equally dependent on internet access, so thats an indication of where potential use is. Of course 5 years from now it will probably be closer to a standard infrastructure item, generally affordable most places...
  16. Ken Bracewell

    Ken Bracewell Senior Member

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    In that case, I'd be happy to try out an early version and offer input. PM me if that would be helpful.
    Ken
  17. CaptPKilbride

    CaptPKilbride Senior Member

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    Neat concept, and a cool toy.
    Wouldn't want to be using this in reduced visibility and have a collision or other casualty, though.
  18. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    True, and here in Maine radar is an absolute. The Augmented Reality part helps though, because it puts what you need to see in front of you even when visibility does down.

    The big pic is photoshop, but the smaller ones are from on the water tests. Of course, the diesel at Joe's Marina ($2.44) isn't real:D

    Attached Files:

  19. CaptPKilbride

    CaptPKilbride Senior Member

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    How exactly does it put what you need to see in front of you? Heading reference is from internal compass in smartphone? Position reference is from internal GPS reciever in smartphone? Does your app have an alarm that goes off when DOP values become dangerous? Does a smartphone even have the ability to measure DOP?
  20. chuckb

    chuckb Senior Member

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    Correct, GPS coupled with an orientation sensor. We basically turn off the AR if the DOP isn't good, and yes smart-phones can measure DOP, although the Androids ability can vary between hardware, and some apps try to include network based positioning which is totally useless.

    The AR function is really a cueing mechanism, you still need to stay "eyes-out" and not depend on the overlaid image. That said, we also demonstrated in a big navy study the ability to stay within 1.5 meters of centerline using AR; GPS alone tells you where you are or have been, whereas AR gives you a point that one can drive toward.

    Chuck