About this project
"The Signal K interfacing standard promises to be the biggest step change in marine interfacing since NMEA was introduced over 40 years ago and iKommunicate makes it compatible with all your existing NMEA 0183/2000 based systems"
iKommunicate is an on board gateway and server that allows traditional NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 marine electronic based equipment to interface with the newly developed, open source Signal K platform. This fast growing "next generation navigation" and data-sharing platform enables the connected boat - welcome to the "Internet of Things" afloat with iKommunicate!
With the funds and engagement that Digital Yacht hope this Kickstarter project will raise, we will take our prototype iKommunicate unit into production, opening up the "closed" world of traditional marine electronics to web and app developers, so that they can provide boaters with a greater choice of powerful and innovative apps and services.
Many boaters will already be familiar with the NMEA data standards used to interface on board electronics. NMEA 0183 has evolved over the past 30 years and the newer NMEA 2000 standard has become widely used by today's marine electronic equipment manufacturers.
There are, however, both technical and legal barriers with these interfacing standards, that stop developers from using this boat data. NMEA 0183 is limited to 34,800 baud and only one transmitting device per connection. NMEA 2000 works at a higher bit-rate (250kbps) and allows multiple devices to transmit on one shared bus. However, in today's connected world, these older, closed data standards struggle to adequately support smart devices and smart data.
Legally developers of both hardware and apps must pay the NMEA organisation for documentation and certification of products, which can add up to thousands of dollars. This can stifle smaller, innovative app developers from entering the marine sector.
So with these issues, a group of open source developers and boating enthusiasts have implemented a new open data platform called Signal K. It's been developing over the past few years and the name comes from the original signal K (kilo) flag which indicates "I want to communicate"! For techies, click on the flag below to learn more at the Signal K website.
We promise that Signal K does not propose a return to flag signalling! It heralds an advanced new platform for marine interfacing and will enable the Internet of Things Afloat as well as introducing a range of exciting new apps.
Signal K aims to be the next generation solution for marine data exchange. It is intended to be used not only for communication between instruments and sensors on board a single vessel, but also to allow for sharing of data between multiple boats, aids to navigation, ports, marinas, etc. It is designed to be easily implemented by web and mobile applications and to connect boats and ships to the Internet of Things Afloat. Digital Yacht have produced a white paper to help interested parties learn more about Signal K and applications. Just click on the pic below
Both NMEA standards and other proprietary protocols in the industry were developed when the instruments on the average boat were much simpler and less capable. Today’s world is a lot more connected and there are huge benefits of tablet, PC and smartphone integration for data displays, applications, sharing and control. For Signal K to start making headway, existing instruments need to become Signal K ready. After all, you don’t want to change all your existing electronics to enable the connected boat. We also think that, in the future, new systems will start including a Signal K interface but that doesn't stop boaters implementing and benefiting from the new technology today.
iKommunicate from Digital Yacht is a gateway interface that translates NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 data to the new Signal K format allowing the current generation of marine electronics to take advantage of the Signal K platform. It converts any existing NMEA data you have on board from your GPS, instruments, engine, AIS etc. to the Signal K format.
When you first install iKommunicate, you program the device through a simple web interface with your boat's data - such as boat name, callsign, MMSI, photo and dimensions. This is a key part of the Signal K schema and allows this data to be used by apps and identifies you as a unique Signal K user.
Digital Yacht's new gateway is based around our existing NMEA 2000 (CanBus) interface with an ARM M4 Cortex processor running at 120MHz, with 1MB RAM and a SD slot for extended storage and firmware updates.
iKommunicate ships with a built in 4GB SD card (removable), that allows for easy in field updates as well as having plenty of storage for local apps and web pages. iKommunicate can act as a server too so apps can run locally and use a web browser for display or configuration. Apps can also run on smart devices, like iPads and tablets, using a raw feed of data from the gateway.
For developers, we will publish a "Programmers Guide" with details of how to use a Bonjour/mDNS service to discover the iKommunicate unit on the network, how to open a Signal K web socket connection to iKommunicate or how to query data using the HTTP restAPIs. Fully documented sample code will be included so that you can get up and running very quickly.
A "proof of concept" prototype developed over the past 6 months was shown for the first time at the NMEA Conference in Baltimore at the beginning of October 2015 and created quite a stir, with a lot of interest from NMEA dealers and app developers. Here's Paul Sumpner (Digital Yacht CTO) and a picture of the concept test set up with a NMEA 2000 simulator and a PC displaying live data collected from M/V Maverick. The bright eyed will also spot the super low power consumption of the gateway at under 100mA.
iKommunicate is equipped with a NMEA 2000 connection, dual NMEA 0183 ports and an RJ45 LAN interface. It can be self-powered from the NMEA 2000 network or connected to a 12/24v supply if only NMEA 0183 data is utilised. It is designed to connect to a 3rd party on-board router which will provide WiFi access and a gateway to the internet if required. This could be via 3G/4G, Wi-Fi or satellite, but internet access on board isn't a prerequisite for iKommunicate. In fact, the Signal K interface allows app developers to store and forward data on smart devices, so your data can be uploaded to the cloud if required - as and when you have connectivity. Many users will just be happy running local apps on board, without any internet connection. That's the beauty of Signal K interfacing.
Any router can be used from a low cost common household device or the more sophisticated marinised routers, like iNavConnect from Digital Yacht
"I already have an iPad connected to my navigation system – Why do I need Signal K?"
Most modern navigation multi function displays have a proprietary Wi-Fi interface, allowing a tablet to connect to the system and act as a control device or display. But it's effectively just a repeater of what you already have and while using a tablet to zoom or pan around on a charting screen is a great user interface, there’s a lot more the tablet can do if it has access to raw data. Most importantly, the Signal K format makes it easier for developers to build sophisticated apps and open up a world of connectivity and applications that have previously been impossible. There are also lots of older systems which just have an NMEA interface - you can bring new life and performance to these systems with iKommunicate.
Signal K will act as a catalyst for developers to dream up new ideas and applications to make boating more fun, safe and affordable. At launch, it will include some built-in web apps, to display navigation data and engine instruments in your browser, so that you can start using it "straight out of the box".
In addition, if iKommunicate is connected to an NMEA2000 network, it can provide a full map of all devices on the network, select which source device you want to use for say depth or position and even display data errors or alarms.
All of iKommunicate's built-in apps and configuration interface are web based, so you and anyone else onboard will be able to display these web pages on any mobile device (PC, Mac, Android, iOS or LINUX) as long as they are connected to your network. No special apps, just open your browser!
A NMEA to WiFi Server too..
iKommunicate can also act as a NMEA server allowing most popular apps including iNavX, NavLink, NMEA Remote, Navionics, Maxsea, Nobeltec, Expedition and many more to use their existing interface supporting UDP to get access to data on the NMEA network. This means legacy apps will still work with iKommunicate even before they implement Signal K - wow!
And apps are already ready...
Some popular apps like NMEA Remote are already supporting beautiful displays of your boat's data on an iPad via iKommunicate. Many more will follow. This is a rapidly evolving eco-system
Going forward, we see a host of independent apps becoming available - and so do others like Bill Bishop, author of the popular Marine Installers Rant blog.
"Because of Signal K and the myriad of creative apps worldwide that will be created as a result of it, the world of boating will be changed forever, and for the better."
Real benefit can be derived from the processing power of the tablet and also its inherent internet connectivity. This potential app integrates Signal K and Twitter, allowing any of your NMEA data to be included in a tweet. The tablet is used to “tweet” your boat’s information so your boating friends and family can follow your progress on the popular app. Twitter APIs are easy to implement on a wide variety of devices and well documented. Equally, a marina could have an auto feed of berth status, wind speed and direction or lock gate status all thanks to the Signal K interface.
Here's another example, integrating a simple search light into your boat's navigation and safety system. AIS SARTs are a great life saving device allowing a plotter to show the position of a Man-Over-Board casualty. But if this happens at night, that final location and recovery of the MOB would be greatly aided by a search light providing visual guidance too. Signal K interfacing makes it easy and affordable to add this functionality to what were in the past closed systems.
And this, for engine monitoring - why not let the cloud analyse your engine data. Modern engines are now fitted with electronic interfaces – many have NMEA 2000 or the similar SAE J1939 data standard which can easily be converted as it is also based on CanBus. This application shows an on board tablet being used to show engine data and also to calculate optimum economy, based on speed and fuel flow. Data is stored in raw format on the device and uploaded to a cloud server when required. Data is analysed by the dealer or manufacturer and a custom service profile developed for your boat - they quickly spot a hot spot showing a cooling or pressure issue, saving you $1000s from an overheated engine. Thank you iKommunicate.
There are also many consumer products that could be utilized on board boats to enhance comfort and improve systems. Belkin have produced a low cost digital switching system called WEMO for AC appliances in the home, allowing control through smart devices and across the internet. Volume production for consumer electronics make these systems very affordable and they can also have applications afloat. Signal K makes integration of these systems simple and intelligent using powerful “if this happened, then do this” commands. Equally, marine electronic equipment manufacturers can add control screens so you can use your plotter to control digital switching – in the same way we see audio control being added to displays today. Signal K is the gateway to better and lower cost integration and applications.
Here's our proposed development plan. We have a full function prototype but the Kickstarter campaign is needed for us to complete design and engineering of the final PCB, a new enclosure and to set up the manufacturing processes for the product. Demand will allow us to chose the best method based on quantities required and that's why we're seeking Kickstarter involvement. We really want to engage with early adopters and end users of this exciting technology. Often, as an established manufacturer, our products are sold through multiple dealers and distributors and when we're kicking off a new era in interfacing we want as much direct contact as possible! It's your chance to get your wish list incorporated.
The common and key element between all of these applications is that Signal K makes them possible by opening up these “niche” marine data standards and making them compatible with the internet, in a format/language that web developers understand and can use, even if they have never set foot on a boat. No longer do marine applications have to be custom, turnkey solutions written by a limited number of marine specialist software programmers or companies. Now anyone with an interesting idea for a new application or service can develop solutions, using the latest HTML5 web development tools and servers.
iKommunicate enables this with a simple interface into the existing boat's electronics. It's your chance to help transform boating with the introduction of next generation navigation, communication, entertainment, security and control. Thanks for backing!
Risks and challenges
iKommunicate is a product bought to you by a team from within Digital Yacht. The Kickstarter platform is ideal for an open source project like this as it gives us the best possible feedback from early adopters of this new technology, whilst allowing you to be part of this important step change in navigation and communication afloat.
There is of course a risk that Signal K will not be adopted by many developers and that regardless of our hardware solution, there will only be a limited number of applications. We think this is unlikely and our research in the developer community and from feedback at boat shows and conferences is that it will be extremely well received. One developer of a boating app with a community of over 200000 users has already agreed to add functionality in time for the project delivery date.
iKommunicate also comes with its own web app that will display the boat's navigation and engine data so users can use it as a remote display right out of the box. This app is hosted on iKommunicate and anyone connected to the boat's network can open their browser and see this data regardless of whether the boat is connected to the internet. iKommunicate will also act as a regular NMEA to network server so existing popular apps like MaxSea, iNavX, NavLink etc can read NMEA data over the network.
Digital Yacht has a proven track-record for innovative new products, having been awarded the NMEA Innovation award in 2011, METS Dame Category Award in the same year and nominated for the METS Dame Award in 2013 and 2014. Last year we exported to over 100 countries and have an excellent global logistics network to ensure your iKommunicate is safely delivered.
Manufacturing always carries some risk, but the volumes and requirements for this project are well within our company's capability.
There is also a chance that iKommunicate will not achieve NMEA certification.Although this wouldn't affect installation, Digital Yacht feel that certification is important, to protect and recognise the NMEA organisation's intellectual property and to ensure that iKommunicate behaves correctly on the NMEA 2000 network. We are familiar with and have already started this process and think it extremely unlikely that certification will not be achieved.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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