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  #1  
Old 04-17-2011, 12:25 PM
RayThackeray RayThackeray is offline
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The latest on computer and instrument networking

I'm planning for my 56' steel sailing trawler's computers and navigation, here are my guiding thoughts for the installation:

1. Pilothouse to have all navigation intrumentation of course.
2. Master stateroom (my cabin!) will also have office.
3. Office and pilothouse to both have multi-terabyte disks, backed up to each other with some regime to be determined.
4. Cat 5 ethernet to every cabin and bridgedeck, with the router in the pilothouse.
5. I have discovered that WiFi does a good job of covering the entire ship with the router in the pilothouse - cool! That means I can roam with the iPad, and it might even be possible to dispense with most of the Cat 5.

Here's the big unresolved question:

For elegance, I'd like in some way to bring up panning nightvision camera, GPS, radar, depth, speed, chartplotter and autopilot etc. displays on the iPad and any computer. That would mean no extra wiring of mirrored instruments below deck or up on the bridgedeck. Is there a way with more modern instrumentation suites to do this? Even better if an iPad or computer App can control the systems, but not necessary, display is the main thing.

Bottom line simplest possibility - I'd like to be able to lie in my bunk or sit up on the bridgedeck and at any time be able to view all ship's instruments on my iPad.

How hard can it be?
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  #2  
Old 04-17-2011, 04:44 PM
michael pierzga michael pierzga is offline
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Hmm.. Ive seen it done on superyachts as a Geez Wizz gizmo.... but on a small boat...Why ?
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  #3  
Old 04-17-2011, 05:04 PM
RayThackeray RayThackeray is offline
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Why not? Seems simple enough.
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  #4  
Old 04-17-2011, 05:06 PM
Tim B Tim B is offline
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Well, the good news is that it's all possible. The bad news is a saline environment and motion.

The saline envionment will kill just about any computer kit which is taken near it, so you have to start being clever. Ideally you want all your kit in airtight boxes with no need for cooling. As most computers do need cooling, a watercooling setup is probably the only way to ensure that your shiny PC kit lives in a truly sealed box. This environment will also degrade connectors pretty quickly, so you might find that standard connectors don't cut it for this purpose.

The vessel motions kill hard-disks, as well as any inadequately supported connections (also makes heat-sinks fall off!). We all know this. Ocean racing yachts suffer from it, and the only way to avoid it is to use solid-state disks, and make sure that everything else is bolted on solidly. SSDs are expensive, so you should seriously think about how much storage you need.

So, all this adds up to some pretty expensive toys, and that's only concentrating on the bits INSIDE the cabin, where it is well protected. Any external displays will be in the $4000 region if you want decent size touchscreens.

In terms of instruments and software, anything is possible. The openPilot project is working towards what you are looking for, but I'm doing it in my spare time, so it's not progressing too quickly. It was started three years ago, and now contains about 19300 lines of code. This is not a small task.

Raymarine are starting to look at the integrated bridge system for leisure use, but I wasn't over-impressed the last time I saw their system. It looked to me like they had wired several of their existing instruments into the same data feed.

So, in conclusion, yes it is possible. It's very hard to do from scratch, and it's usually very expensive.

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  #5  
Old 04-17-2011, 05:42 PM
michael pierzga michael pierzga is offline
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I recently saw a small ,50 ft, production yacht with an integrated system based around a Simrad package...all data available on jumbo flat screen tv's.

As Tim noted the marine environment is harsh. Hard disc failure is a typical system collapse on yachts Ive sailed. The lack of skilled technicians who can troubleshoot and get the system back up is a concern.

Keep it simple is a very good rule. Stand alone redundant sensors . Navigation completly separate from ships systems works best for me.
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Old 04-17-2011, 07:57 PM
RayThackeray RayThackeray is offline
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Solid State disks are pretty standard these days (btw I'm in high tech in Silicon Valley). Apart from the terabyte backup disks I have, everything else is SSD including the smartphones, iPads and laptops. I've taken these things out on boats for at least a couple of years no problems. After 2 years, it's time to replace 'em anyway. So the marine environment is no problem (at least, not for me). I'll find a way to protect the big backup disks somewhere safe in the office and only use them when it's calm.

Forget the computers and screens, that's not the point of my question, I know how to look after my hardware. I'm just trying to do something that seems to be a no-brainer: whether you can set things up so that you can view the boat's instruments over standard WiFi to a laptop or even better an iPad. Do any of the big manufacturers like RayMarine have such an option? I can't figure it out from the sales literature...
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  #7  
Old 04-17-2011, 10:18 PM
DaveJ DaveJ is offline
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What your looking for is to have the nmea standard transmitted over WiFi and apps on you devices (ipad, iphone) that can pick the particular data out of the nmea stream and display it. If you want to control it via the hand held devices than the nema stream will have to be duplex in nature.
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  #8  
Old 04-18-2011, 06:52 AM
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yipster yipster is offline
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Tom Speer installed such a wifi on his tri. A system from a dutch comp a year back
Looked rather impressive and cost was if i recall only a few hundred
Its somewhere on this forum but give it a search when on pc. From my smatphone now
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  #9  
Old 04-18-2011, 08:00 AM
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yipster yipster is offline
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found the link Laptop interface to TackTick NMEA but was bluetooth to laptop
looked like great stuff and should by now include smartphones..

http://www.shipmodul.com/en/index.html
http://www.customware.nl/en/
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  #10  
Old 04-18-2011, 11:38 AM
RayThackeray RayThackeray is offline
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Bluetooth could work, mind you not as good as WiFi but probably functional enough, this is good information ypister, thanks!
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  #11  
Old 04-18-2011, 04:20 PM
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kroberts kroberts is offline
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I think a lot of this depends on what exactly you mean by "see the instruments." You could attach a webcam to the roof of your pilothouse and see your instruments. I don't think that's what you're thinking of though, and if I were looking at instruments through an iPad I would want to be able to steer the boat too, and control the engine(s). Which kinda means a 360 degree view of the horizon....

I won't touch the boat-specific part of this because there are others here who can answer that much better than I can. I have only a few questions for you to consider?
  1. Do you want to control some or all aspects of the boat as well as see the instruments?
  2. Is there some aspect of that control that could compromise the security of the boat?
  3. Is there some aspect of that control which could compromise the safety of the boat?
  4. Have you checked all over the boat or just in a few places for wifi functionality? The steel hull may cause reflections and all sorts of bizarreness which could either change available bandwidth or block it entirely.
  5. Do you trust all the people who may ride your boat (or even walking by it on the dock) to be honest and responsible? (Some of them will also have an iPad or similar)

I don't need answers to these, but you do.

IMO you should consider three systems:
  1. Core functionality which has direct access to run the boat. This section should be unreachable by direct network access.
  2. The priviledged functionality you want. This may include all or some of the instruments, and any control functionality which may include everything you need to drive the boat but through an encrypted remote interface.
  3. Whatever you deem safe enough to be unprotected public information.

Reworded for clarity:
FWIW I think that if wifi works, you should abandon hard lines all over the boat. Nobody uses them anyway, for travel-based machines. Your core functionality is an entirely different story. WIFI is slower and inevitably less secure than equivalent technology over wires. Use hard ethernet for core functionality and WIFI for everything else.


Backup: I recommend redundancy rather than resiliency. Get a weatherproof enclosure, put in a drive enclosure or Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, and slide in some plain hard drives. You can have two enclosures and duplicate the system in two different places if you like, but the idea is that you do your backup, then every so often you open the case, pop a drive out, stick a new one in and close the case back up again. The old and new drives are in a sealed container with some sort of environmental control. Could be a bottle of gas you flood the container with to displace the sea air, or could be more sophisticated.

Core functionality should be hard wired with cat 6 for modern ethernet and should have easy access to pull the wires out and replace them quickly. If necessary this means waterproof enclosures with fancy cooling but I doubt it does. I would make the conduits waterproof in case you decide to seal now or later. Controls should have a safe setting (maybe rudder slightly to one side, engines idle for example so that if you fall off the boat with your iPad, the boat will eventually circle around to somewhere close)

Finally, rather than making an iPad app for controlling the boat, you should make it generic. By the time the boat gets set up, the iPad will be replaced by something else. Use a standard technology like a web browser with https and then as long as there are web browsers you should be able to replace the iPad that just fell off the boat with something else that works just as well.
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  #12  
Old 04-18-2011, 04:56 PM
RayThackeray RayThackeray is offline
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All I want is to be able to view the radar, depth, speed and other instruments on an iPad or laptop. WiFi is just fine, not worried about security when underway. I don't want to control the boat from the GUI, so am not worried about someone on the boat getting access - OK with me, everyone gets watch duty at some time anyway.

After testing, I actually think I might abandon ethernet cables, WiFi data speed is good with me - on my iPad speedtest.net through the router gives me over 20MB down and 10MB up on broadband, that'll let me do anything I want including video, stem-to-stern (actually, that kinda surprised me on a 50 foot+ steel boat, but my friend who is in the RF field says it's expected. Signals bounce around and find a way apparently. Maybe I'll just have just ethernet cabling from my on-board office to the router and well-protected hard drive backup, big file transfers and backups seem to be the only thing that WiFi doesn't easily handle these days. Some people may wonder why I need computers and lots of data on a boat, but I'm setting up a nonprofit operation that will be running a sophisticated website and literally the business from the boat, I'm already doing it, using a mobile HotSpot from a Verizon HTC Android phone to 5 computers. BTW despite all WiFi security worries, pretty much everyone here in Silicon Valley runs their businesses over WiFi, just adopt good security policies and move on...

So bottom line - all I need is the data and App on the device that lets me view the bridge instrument data. Ken, very good point - I agree browser access is best, I use all sorts of devices, the only common component is http...

How hard can it be?

BTW Cool idea on the webcam in the pilothouse - when I'm off watch lying down in my bunk I'll be able to see who is asleep at the helm!
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  #13  
Old 04-18-2011, 05:01 PM
Tim B Tim B is offline
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Perception is interesting isn't it? I think the marine environment is a lot nastier than you give it credit for. The two things that you need for this system ABOVE ALL ELSE is simplicity and reliability. Don't design for a 2 year life, design for a 20 year life, then replace it after 5 or 10.

Whatever you use to drive the displays is really by-the-by, I was trying to get you to think about the practical aspects of putting a computer on-board. Not whether you need Word and Excel. The term "PC" was used to refer to a system running on commodity hardware, rather than a specific low-power system.

The compute resource required will be entirely determined by what you are trying to use it for, and my feeling would be to use a central processing unit (or two for redundancy), and then pass small packets of data to the devices which need it. This reduces the processing power required in your other (possibly mobile) devices.

However, you may find that you are better suited with the suggested data-sharing policy, where each device has access to all data. However, you may have to consider the security implications of this.

This type of integrated system is a good idea, don't get me wrong. It's actually quite simple. What it isn't is easy. In order to get a reliable system (and I'm going to be doing on-board dinghy telemetry in the not-too distant future, where the conditions are even worse) is VERY difficult. That is why everything gets expensive. I often find that what people class as a "no brainer" is an idea which they have fully appreciated the scope of. Trust me - I'm writing the software for a VERY similar system. I'm also using very specific hardware to avoid some of the problems.

Tim B.
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  #14  
Old 04-18-2011, 06:09 PM
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kroberts kroberts is offline
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@Tim B,

I'm not underestimating the marine environment at all, I think.

My recommendations are based on the fact that most people replace their computers almost as often as they replace their cell phones. Which means about 3 years on average.

The visual-only requirement for instrumentation means this entire thing could be bought at Best Buy, if it were not for the saltwater air.

IMO in a harsh environment you should assume failure and make replacement easy, rather than try to make something which is inherently delicate last forever, especially when its value depreciates so quickly anyway.

The only reason something like this might stick around for a decade is because the owner is so afraid of replacing anything that they try to resurrect it over and over. If the software used is just off-the-shelf stuff with very basic customization, the tendency will be to replace the hardware with something new and drag the app over, and see if it all works.

So far the only thing mentioned in this thread is the ability to read instruments, which could be done either through the web cam or through an industry specific data standard. Either way, the outlook is really good that a few years from now something will be around to replace it with minimal fuss.
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  #15  
Old 04-18-2011, 06:11 PM
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Sorry, I didn't finish my point.

If you have what I see here, you get a few pieces of relatively cheap equipment. Then you get spares for everything. The spares go into a weatherproof, protected container with no power. When one of the working copies breaks, you pull out a spare and replace it. Then you get a new one when you get back to shore.
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