It is widely accepted that when the Internet of Things (IoT) finally goes mainstream it will have huge implications for all aspects of commercial life. The maritime sector is likely to be no exception. To reprise on what the Internet of Things (IoT) actually promises, the concept is based on the realisation that almost any electro-mechanical device from a fridge in the galley to an engine management system deep in the hull to the integrated bridge system (IBS) can be fitted with microprocessors and data links. Together these enable remote communication either through the mobile network, Wi-Fi or via a physical connection. Information and commands relating to everything from maintenance and replenishment to alerts and avoidance can then be exchanged and acted upon with minimal human interaction if so desired.

IoT as a concept has been around since the start of the century, but only recently have the component technologies achieved the capabilities needed to make it a reality, and even then the pace of introduction has not been as fast as some would like. Issues such as compatibility, security, privacy and control continue to generate much discussion, but adoption at least on a local scale, within a vessel for example, is today within reach and the inefficiencies that can be achieved are very attractive.

Autonomous Ship Technology

In many ways, the maritime sector is already one of the leaders in the field of IoT. The introduction of autonomous vessels is being widely talked about, with international symposia taking place and companies like Rolls Royce releasing studies on what will be needed to make such ships a reality.

One key element of any maritime IoT system will of course be remote monitoring of every aspect of the vessel’s operations, both mechanical and navigational. Ideally the data will be processed centrally on board and transmitted in a continuous stream to the operator’s control and monitoring centre. The second key element is the fact that the interconnectivity between the equipment on board will allow the vessel, depending on the programming, to issue ‘commands’ to one system, such as the steering, in response to data received from other instruments, such as radar and AIS.

In fact, AIS will have a vital role to play in marine IoT in general and autonomous ship technology in particular. Already the prototype autonomous Sea Hunter warship undergoing trials with the US Navy is using AIS for positioning and collision avoidance. AIS has a big advantage over traditional collision avoidance systems like radar in that the additional information that is carried on the transmission, such as the size and type of vessel, allows more effective decision-making as to what course of action to take in any given situation.

It can also be used to allow groups of vessels travelling together to automatically maintain position, relative to each other and to a lead ship.

Fused data

BigOceanData is already demonstrating that core elements of the systems required to make all this a reality are in place. It has taken a lead in enabling AIS transmissions to carry data from more than one source, and its ability to fuse data from other systems such as SSAS and Inmarsat-C that transmit data via low-orbit satellites is pointing the way in which AIS as a critical system on board any IoT vessel, manned or autonomous, will be at the heart of the IoT network. BigOceanData and its fused data capabilities are among the first steps that will over the next decade see the commercial maritime industry transformed beyond all recognition by IoT, and become much safer and more efficient as a result.

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About BigOceanData

BigOceanData is a leader in maritime tracking and telemetry, delivering global vessel tracking and monitoring services along with fleet management tools via its sophisticated browser-based interface. Key features of the BigOceanData product include its ability to fuse data from AIS signals and a range of onboard satellite reporting systems so as to both improve position accuracy and reduce data costs. The system also integrates a series of data feeds and management tools that show users not only vessel locations and movements, but situational data such as marine charting, terrestrial mapping, weather and sea-state (current and forecast), and piracy and other security alerts.