Wednesday, 24 April 2013

2013: Hand crafted wooden technology + hand crafted digital technology


1666: Great Fire of London - caused by new oven technology
1777: First Marine Chronograph Patented
1888: Bonita hand built by craftsmen at Arnside, Cumbria
1999: Mobile Internet starts in Beta test

In her 125th year, Bonita now carries echoes of all these events as she sails round Britain.  At the time she was built, she was ‘state of the art’ for a gentleman’s cruiser.  As much skill, effort and creative problem-solving went into her construction as went into the crafting of the computer software this old lady is carrying aboard - or for the new technology of baking bread..

Once GPS position keeping became commonplace, one of the first maritime extensions was the AIS system.  This was originally designed for large ships to transmit short range ‘pings’ of their position, speed and heading.  Any ship within radio range could pick up these short messages and then, visually or automatically, work out whether a collision was going to happen — and take avoiding action if necessary.  The same equipment transmits & receives and is compulsory on all registered merchant ships.

For cost reasons, Bonita only has a receive capability, but this will be enough to stop her being run down in Bristol Channel fog.  Much easier than shining a torch on her mainsail— which we've done on more than one occasion!

Early on, some clever techie realised, that if they could receive these tiny AIS messages at a shore-based radio station. They could then display ship positions live on a computer - and nowadays send them onto the Internet.  

Go to  http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/ and have a play –  you’ll be astounded by the detail.   You can also download Marinetraffic for your Android phone or tablet from here.  If you’re still on old technology, it’s available for the Apple iPhone  here.  If you really want a great view on your PC or tablet, get the Google Earth 3D extension from here

Zoom in on the English Channel or Shanghai.  See the live position of every ship in the area, then right click to see their track, their pictures and ship details.  You can even add waypoints and calculate arrival times.  If you search for Bonita‑Yawl (not ‘Yawl Bonita’), you'll see her position if she’s transmitting.  If she hasn't for 24 hours, it will say ‘Out of Range’.  It will also tell you the last time she transmitted. The picture above shows her journey today from Iron Wharf Boatyard to her mooring (click the picture for a much higher resolution).

So if she only has a receive capability, how is Bonita doing this? Well the answer is the Google Android Phone that Mike or his crew is carrying, and the mAIS Self Reporting app which you can download from here.   Bonita has her own MMSI number (or at least her VHF radio does) — 235098433 — and you can search on Marinetraffic using this instead of her name.  As long as she’s within range of a cellular network (which is almost all the time), Mike or his crew’s phone will send out her speed, position and heading every 15 minutes.  The messages are tiny, so the cost is negligible with a UK data plan; the power consumption is low enough to only need to recharge the phone once a day.  

More on Bonita’s electrical systems in a later blog.