Boat Antennas
Sky's the limit!

By now you’ve probably heard the term “Internet of Things” (IOT). How is it relevant to my boat?

We’ve come to expect our phones, tablets, laptops and desktops to be connected via local network and the Internet. There is now a growing trend to connect other things to each other and the Internet as well. Things like home thermostats, lights, coffee makers, refrigerators, cameras, and even clothing are becoming connected using wireless technologies. One of the challenges we face is securing all these “things” and having a common language to control them all. You probably don’t want some hacker to gain access to your jacket and start cranking the heat. Misplace your jacket? IOT to the rescue!

For the home, efforts like Google’s Brillo, Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s Smart Things, Wink and the open source openHAB project, are jockeying to be the common standard platform to control many different things. Marine electronics are much further behind and we are still waiting for an Internet friendly standard to hit the mainstream. Regardless of which standard becomes popular, it will have to be web developer friendly so that a web browser will be the go to place for control. Access has to be from anywhere. The boating world is headed kicking and screaming in this direction!

I like the phrase “Internet of boats” (IOB) because our boats aren’t mere “things.” A boat is a complex system of mechanical and electronic parts which evokes an emotional attachment by the owner. She is our baby and pride and joy, we want to maintain her, share her, and take her on awesome adventures. How do we get the most out of our huge investment and have more flexibility with our data and where we can access it from?

A little background…

Marine electronics used to be completely proprietary. Standards like NMEA 0183 came about to address this. Unfortunately its limited support for only certain types of data, and the finicky way devices had to be physically connected together, left a huge hole to be filled. Devices could share some data, but installation and troubleshooting was a nightmare for most mere mortals.

NMEA decoder
Shhhhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone. by Steve

Along came NMEA 2000 to address some of these deficiencies. Manufacturers now agreed on a broader and more robust network type and data format to talk to each other, but there was a high price to be part of the club. Many more data types were supported but data was no longer transmitted in plain text. Decoding it was extremely difficult. Two steps forward and one step back! If you wanted access to the data your boat generated, you were stuck using expensive products and displays, typically in fixed positions on your boat. Get out the big bucks if you want to switch, control, monitor, or do anything else remotely.

Luckily, times are finally changing in a good way. A convergence of factors and technologies will drive huge change in the marine electronics industry such as:

  • Broader Internet connectivity options from things like marina wifi, better cellular coverage, cheaper satellite data, etc.
  • Wireless smartphones and tablets are everywhere and people want to use these same devices when boating.
  • Powerful micro-electronic brains like the very cheap Arduino make it possible for the hobbyist and startup manufacturer to create marine electronics.
  • Social networks make posting photos, videos, and “look at me” moments very normal.
  • Wifi routers are being installed on boats.
  • Sunlight viewable display prices are dropping.
  • Signal K is on the doorstep and organizations like NMEA have officially recognized it.

Signal K

Signal K gives us a the first web friendly language and platform for our boat data, with read / write access and built in security.  We now don’t have to be locked in to one system.

iKommunicate gateway
iKommunicate: Will it help unlock the internet of boats?

So the internet of boats is about flexibility, lower cost options, remote access, data sharing, cloud services, open standards, and connectivity with whatever you can dream up. It’s about our boat in an “inter-network” of other boats. How “kool” will that be, so many possibilities. Keep an eye on the SIGNAL Kool blog as we experience and navigate our way through this marine data revolution together.

– Safe Boating –