Mark Thomas, CEO of Coderus, who often takes time out with his family on the water, ponders the future of ‘smart’ boating and how smartphones and tablets on land are revolutionising on-board technology.
You’ve probably got a ‘smart’ phone in your pocket, you may have had a ‘smart’ meter fitted at home and your next family saloon could be a ‘smart’ car. But what about the idea of the ‘smart’ boat? It may seem some way off if you’re a weekend or aspirational sailor. However, the world of technology moves fast and development travels a long way ‘under the radar’ before surfacing into our lives. Just consider the rapid rise of the smartphone and the mind-boggling array of apps now available to enrich people’s day-to-day existence. And how many people do you now see on trains and planes with an iPad or other tablet in front of them?
It hardly seems possible that just 10 years ago the now ubiquitous smartphone was a rarity. In fact, while the first smartphones were released in Japan in 1999, they didn’t receive widespread global acclaim until the late 2000s, when Mark fondly remembers using his Ericsson R380. Now, four out of five adults in the UK owns one of these must-have gadgets and, according to a recent report by Deloitte, we have never been more addicted to them.
The yachting app revolution
Technology is certainly not new in the world of sailing or motor yachting. The introduction of on-board wireless technology and the interconnection of Wi-Fi capable devices provides the potential for a wide range of mobile apps, all designed to improve the on-the-water experience. These include the obvious on-board automation, allowing control of lighting, temperature and entertainment, right through to technology to aid the crew with navigation, tidal information and weather forecasts.
While primary navigation is generally still reliant on dedicated marine hardware and paper charts, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can now run charting apps from major marine industry suppliers. For example, from Navionics, whose technology covers both iOS and Android platforms and is designed to run offline with only a GPS connection. Environmental and reliability issues, however, will continue to give dedicated marine systems the edge for a while longer.
Wi-Fi or GSM mobile connectivity is generally not a pre-requisite for running common apps as mobile connectivity can only be relied upon up to a few miles offshore and external Wi-Fi is limited to marinas. Only top of the range communications products provide internet connectivity offshore through satellite connections.
These are very expensive, especially if your expectation is landline broadband performance or even 4G mobile speeds. ‘Smart’ boat systems are, therefore, not reliant on the outside world but will form part of the networked systems on-board.
The main drivers for smart boat systems are the simplification of boat handling and green/carbon neutral energy systems. For instance, Beneteau’s ‘Dock and Go’ is designed to simplify and ease the process of berthing your boat, and there’s every reason to believe that this could become an automatic and completely hands-free docking system in time.
Similarly, the Jeanneau/Harken ‘Assisted Sail Trim’ automatic sail control system, currently providing auto tacking and auto trim will, in future, provide a complete sail management system. As these systems develop and evolve it’s clear that the autonomous boat could become a reality.
Additional apps emerging include online berth booking systems that simplify booking a marina berth in advance – just like booking a hotel. One such system is ‘The Waypoint’.
Boats require power, even with increasingly energy efficient systems, power needs are high, but self-sufficiency is on the horizon. Electric propulsion systems, such as the recent ‘sail drive’ system from Oceanvolt, will gradually replace diesel propulsion systems. Power systems based on the use of fuel cells are beginning to appear, as well as novel ways of charging batteries using flexible photo cell arrays bonded to sails. No doubt other energy harvesting systems are possible.
As is often the case, elite sport provides a technology drive in the marine industry. Coderus has been selected to partner with BT to develop ground-breaking technology for Land Rover BAR – the British Challenger for the 35th Americas Cup – supporting the development of tactical information for crew members in the run up to the 2017 America’s Cup.
America’s Cup teams are reputed to use virtual reality (VR) for their shore-side training. When they’re at sea, there’s a veritable goldmine of telemetry information downloaded from the boat in real-time, helping teams to optimise their performance.
There’s a wide range of apps on the market to provide virtual assistance for yacht racers, delivering position, speed, bearing and wind information, often offering a range of visual options. RaceTac for Android is a tactical assistant for the serious competitor. You can set up and store marks and courses quickly, optimise your (Speed Over Ground) SOG and (Velocity Made Good) VMG, and plan your angles to your marks. There’s also an augmented reality (AR) mode to find marks in bad visibility. Another popular app is SailRacer, which calculates your perfect start and tactical manoeuvres during the race based on current, wind, laylines and polar data.
The fact that most apps already in circulation are available on mobile devices means they’re relatively cheap and easy to access. There are problems with this approach, though, as smartphones and tablets are not really designed for sea-borne use.
One new approach beginning to appear is sailing apps for smart watches. For example, there’s the Apple crew watch system from superyacht technology developer Van Berge Henegouwen. Using the company’s advanced Pivot control system, it enables crew members on luxury vessels to discretely receive calls from guests on their watches, with ‘push’ notifications to ensure calls are received even when the watch is not in use. In addition, yacht owners and guests can control the on-board environment and entertainment from their watches.
While mobile apps still don’t dominate in the marine technology market, advanced embedded systems are beginning to appear. And in the same way that yacht racing is leading the development of mobile apps, the desire of billionaire superyacht owners to outdo their peers is driving innovation in on-board technology.
Russian industrialist and billionaire Andrey Melnichenko’s amazing 142-metre Sailing Yacht A, currently undergoing sea trials, is reported to have super-hi-tech features, including a digital control system with a touch sensitive sheet of black glass, enabling the crew to raise and lower the sails and anchor with one swipe of the fingers.
Volvo Penta and Garmin’s ‘Glass Cockpit’ system has a multi-function, widescreen display giving the skipper a full overview of navigation and engine data, together with warnings, alarms and ‘Easy Boating’ features such as autopilot and joystick driving.
Designed for ‘megayachts’, the Synapsis Intelligent Bridge Control System by Raytheon Anschütz features multi-functional workstations that can be easily configured to the user’s individual requirements. It seamlessly integrates sensors for target detection, heading, position and further navigation data, as well as a variety of steering control systems.
It’s not so long ago that mariners relied simply on a compass, a sextant and their own seafaring skills. As with so many aspects of our lives, the world of sailing is being gradually transformed by technology. There’s plenty of scope to simplify and make boating more accessible for the pleasure user as developments come to fruition, provided there are backup systems, to ensure safety is not compromised. Many of these systems will be controlled through your tablet, phone or even your watch. Welcome to the era of the ‘smart’ boat.
Notes to editors
Coderus Limited is an innovative software development and consultancy company based in the UK but working across the globe. They pride themselves on close collaboration with clients to understand their current and future business needs.
They build software with this in mind, because technology trends change so rapidly, so adopting the most appropriate design, tools and technologies at the outset is crucial.
The experience and depth of capability of those working for Coderus allows them to deliver solutions from a software application to a fully featured cross platform end-to-end design based on detailed customer requirements.
Every project is professionally managed and delivered using world-class development and planning tools to ensure timely and cost effective delivery. They use industry standard project delivery techniques, including an agile delivery approach if appropriate.
In all cases, Coderus assures that the user interface design, coding and platform features will have all been fully optimised to deliver a complete package with the best possible usability and customer performance.
For further information about the limitless possibilities with Coderus, please visit: www.coderus.com
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