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Cloudy — and cutting-edge cool

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Joe Burke was the driving force behind the exhibit. Leading electronics firms combined to demonstrate the interconnectivity of their independent systems.

Joe Burke was the driving force behind the exhibit. Leading electronics firms combined to demonstrate the interconnectivity of their independent systems.

Clouds were on everybody’s mind at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference, and it had very little to do with the rain. The Connected Boat exhibit in the Electronics Pavilion shone through the IBEX traffic of 7,000 registered marine professionals and 573 exhibiting companies.

The exhibit’s interactive marine electronics displays demonstrated how independent electronic systems can connect to one another using existing network technologies and laid out examples of how multiple onboard systems can then connect to boaters’ smartphones, tablets and home computers through cloud computing.

“We wanted to send a message that we could interconnect this wide variety of independent vendors like Simrad, Mercury and Garmin and, using gateway technology like SeaSmart, connect the systems to the cloud,” says Chetco Digital Systems chief technology officer Joe Burke. Cloud technology then allows boaters to view all of their onboard systems from cellphones and tablets, whether they’re on or off their boat, says Burke, whose company was IBEX’s creative partner in The Connected Boat exhibit.

“Onboard vessel gateways (such as SeaSmart) can now link to Internet-driven consumer devices for global remote access and monitoring,” says Burke.

One of Burke’s display screens at the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 IBEX exhibit in Tampa, Fla., showed real-time information from Burke’s own boat, anchored near Oregon’s Pacific Coast. Burke’s fuel gauge, battery bank levels and oil pressure were accessible and visible, along with Oregon’s current temperature, wind speeds and tides.

“One kid put it to me this way. He said, ‘I own a boat and I use it 5 percent of the time, but I think about it 100 percent of the time.’ Whether you’re onboard, at the office or at home, you can stay connected to your boat. You can check your systems whenever you want.”

The Connected Boat derived from an earlier, informal group of marine electronics vendors that had looked at connecting independent systems. Past versions of the exhibit at IBEX were more haphazard, with tables set up and covered with equipment, which vendors tried to connect. Burke ran a more casual version of The Connected Boat last year at IBEX and worked with IBEX organizers and show director Anne Dunbar to upgrade it this year.

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“We picked a niche group [to participate] and sought vendors we thought would be appropriate,” says Burke. Chetco wanted to show a wide variety of interconnecting technologies; with that in mind, it approached a select list of potential sponsors and received a positive response from 20 vendors in a short period of time. Sponsors that exhibited live networking products this year include Simrad, Garmin, Blue Sea Systems, Digital Yacht Ltd., Dometic, Gemeco, Mastervolt, Raymarine, Mercury and Honda. A full working model of The Connected Boat was developed and set up in a staging facility during the summer, prior to the September show.

“We were purposeful in how we set up the demos so we could show how all these systems can work together,” Burke says.

Burke’s company, Chetco Digital Instruments, develops products designed to create a digital instrument hub. Products include the SeaGauge line, which converts analog engine data to NMEA 2000 and/or NMEA 0183 compatible network data; the SeaSmart.NET modules, which allow all digital and analog data streaming through the NMEA 2000 or NMEA 0183 serial network to be sent to the onboard computer and routed over a local wireless Internet server (or built-in local intranet) where it can be accessed by multiple users, through any browser, for real-time data display; and HelmSmart, a vessel instrumentation website offering cloud-based data access to a line of SeaSmart network adapters. HelmSmart data can be viewed in a variety of formats, including map overlays, charts, spreadsheets and alarm/status messages, and stored data and live monitoring can be viewed on high-speed cloud servers at any time anywhere with Internet access. Chetco products are compatible with existing onboard systems such as SmartCraft, Navico, Simrad, Garmin and Honda.

Connect, convert, reduce

Burke says one of the biggest changes he has seen in the constantly developing field of marine electronics is the migration from single-point display technology from companies such as Simrad, Garmin, and Raymarine to multi-point viewing that can now be utilized at different points on a vessel.

“Before, the only information you got from your instruments was when you were actually physically looking at them,” he says. “That single point is now being propagated; it’s now getting replicated to multiple points on the boat and can be viewed from tablets and smartphones. Before, you had to be physically standing next to an instrument. Now you can have someone looking at it a thousand miles away.”

Along with that, he says, wider Internet access, high-tech cellphones and free Internet appliances all open up a new array of connectivity.

Airplanes have had this sort of interconnectivity for a long time, he says. In the marine field, progress was slower because each vendor had its own thing, its individual devices. Gateway devices can now connect these devices and bring the architecture found in the aerospace industry to the marine environment.

Converting old analog systems into digital formats, connecting systems and reducing the real estate footprints on the dashboard are imperative for today’s recreational and commercial boaters, Burke says. “There is so much equipment now, and everyone’s trying to cram all these things onto their dashboard. We show them how.”

Even analog data from a 1949 engine can be converted and connected, Burke says. “We’re no longer reinventing the wheel,” he says. “We take what’s there and leverage it forward.”

What to do with all the data?

The interconnectivity established by gateway devices and cloud computing has created massive amounts of data. The question now is what to do with all of this data. High-end data analytics, gathered from massive amounts of cloud data, can help companies improve products and services. Automated decision-making services can be set up to assist in the operation and maintenance of a vessel. Cloud transmissions can even be set up to report when boats need refueling or batteries are low. “You can set up a system to send you a tweet when the oil pressure is low,” Burke says.

Social networking, in which boaters can share information such as trip data and vessel maintenance patterns with friends, is also going to be more and more common, he says. Numerous websites are up and running, and more are on the horizon.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.

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