Wireless AIS Configuration App for Android

AISConfig Icon for blog

Our proAIS2 software for configuring and checking our latest generation of AIS transponders is a useful tool, but only being Windows and Mac compatible, it does have its limitations.

With this in mind, we have developed an Android App that allows you to do pretty much everything that proAIS2 does, but wirelessly from your Android Smart Phone or Tablet. AISConfig is a free app, available on the Google Play Store, that works with our AIT1500 (NMEA0183 version), AIT2000 and AIT3000.

Being wireless, you will need a WLN10HS or AIS WiFi Server if using our AIT1500 or AIT2000, but this is a popular combination, so there should be many customers out there that will benefit from this new App and of course our “top of the range” AIT3000 has WiFi built-in so AISConfig is the perfect app for it.

AISConfig for blog

Using AISConfig you can do all of the initial configuration, including programming of the MMSI number and then once setup, you can use AISConfig to monitor the status of the transponder, repeat the LED status (useful if the transponder is behind a panel) and to turn OFF/ON the Silent Mode, avoiding the need for a physical switch.

If AISConfig proves popular, then we will certainly consider producing an Apple iOS version, but for now AISConfig is only available for Android.

Overview of Digital Yacht’s Wireless NMEA Devices

Wireless NMEA Products New

Since 2011, when we released iAIS, the world’s first wireless AIS receiver, we have been gradually building up a powerful range of wireless NMEA products. All of these products allow NMEA data (the marine industry data standard) to be taken from your onboard navigation equipment and transferred wirelessly to your mobile devices; tablets, smart phones, computers, etc.

With nine different wireless NMEA products in our range, it can be confusing for customers to select the best product for their needs. This article provides a simple overview of our wireless NMEA products which will hopefully make it easier for you to choose the right product for your application.

Product Description
iAIS AIS Receiver with Wi-Fi
AIT3000 AIS Transponder with Wi-Fi
iNavHub Wireless Router that converts NMEA0183 data
NavLink Wireless NMEA2000 Converter
PilotLink Portable Wireless converter for Class A transponders
WLN10 Wireless NMEA0183 Converter for Instruments
WLN10HS Wireless NMEA0183 Converter for AIS
SonarServer Wireless NMEA0183 Converter for Navionics App
WLN20 Dual Input Wireless NMEA0183 Converter

All of these products transmit wireless NMEA data that is readable by most of the popular navigation apps for Apple and Android devices. For more information on the latest Apps, please have a look at our Best Marine Apps for Apple iOS Devices or our Best Marine Apps for Android Devices articles.

The Navionics Boating App, the most popular navigation App for both Apple and Android devices, has recently added support for wireless NMEA and will now read wireless Depth and GPS data from the boat’s navigation system. Primarily this is to allow customers to create their own bathymetric charts using the Navionics SonarCharts™ “Live” technology, but it also allows non-3G iPads and even iPod Touch devices, that do not have their own internal GPS, to now be used for navigation. Digital Yacht have produced a special, simplified version of our WLN10, called the SonarServer that works with the Navionics App, although all of our other wireless products are also SonarCharts “Live” compatible.

If you would like to breath new life in to your boat’s existing navigation system, by going wireless and running the latest Apps on your new tablet or smart phone, then check what NMEA0183 or NMEA2000 interfaces your system has, decide whether you want to add AIS or not and then select the Digital Yacht wireless NMEA product that best suits your needs.

Surface Pro 3 Navigation & Charting

While Microsoft have had a hard time with their Surface tablet product, the latest generation really is a great product and may make a brilliant solution for on board navigation.  With an amazing 2160 x 1440 pixel 12″ screen it’s hands down better than pretty much any chart plotter and its portability means you can use at the chart table, in the cockpit or for planning at home.  It’s also priced like a 5″ plotter

Surface-Pro-3

The keyboard is detachable so you can use as a tablet (with touch screen, mouse or stylus) or in a more familiar notebook format which is good at a desk or chart table.  We also wrote about the Lenovo MiiX tablet (a smaller 8″ unit) HERE a few months back but Surface offers a bigger screen and a more powerful Intel based processor for superior performance.

But…  Unlike many tablets, it doesn’t have a built in GPS so until now was not a contender for on board navigation.  However, our WLN series nmea-wireless servers can stream your boat’s NMEA instrument, GPS and AIS data direct to any mobile device including iPads, Android tablets, PCs, MACs and now the Surface Pro.  This is a much better solution even if your tablet has an internal GPS as your on board system will generally be more accurate and have other data like AIS and instruments available.  It alos means the tablet will work below decks and save on tablet battery consumption.

You can of course use our SmarterTrack PC navigation program on a Surface Pro and this works well.  Swedish developer SeaPilot have just launched a FREE app on the Windows store and there’s a large selection of professional charts available to download for a modest cost turning the Surface Pro 3 with a WLN10 into a pretty powerful navigation solution.  Here’s a quick 2 minute video with Jens Johansson from SeaPilot when I caught up with him at Boot 2015

Getting maximum Wi-Fi range on our PilotLink

PilotLink on Car Mount

Our PilotLink wireless NMEA server for connecting a Class A transponder to an iPad or other wireless device is proving very popular with commercial pilots and ship owners. PilotLink is the only wireless product in our range to feature an internal Wi-Fi antenna but its small ceramic chip antenna is very good and should have a range of 50m or more depending upon environmental conditions.

However, recently one of the Pilots who helped us in the original product testing reported that on some larger vessels, he was only seeing a 20m range. He also reported that if he held the PilotLink vertically and stuck it to the front window of the ship’s bridge that the range would suddenly increase and he could get reception from one side of the bridge to the other.

On checking the antenna data-sheet we confirmed that the antenna gave maximum gain when the Pilot Link was held vertically and also that if the PilotLink was laid flat on a metal surface, which is common when using it on a ship’s bridge, that the Wi-Fi range would be further reduced.

 

Pilot Link Signal Pattern

The drawing above attempts to illustrate how the Wi-Fi signals emanate from the center of the PilotLink – imagine a large doughnut approximately 100m in diameter with the PilotLink in the middle !

So after reviewing the Pilot’s feedback, backed up by the antenna datasheets, we recommend that anyone needing maximum Wi-Fi range from our PilotLink unit, should mount the PilotLink vertically, as far away from any large metallic objects as possible.

Whilst considering this issue, it occurred to us that a very good solution would be to use one of the many designs of mobile phone holders for cars. Although PilotLink is slightly thicker than your average mobile phone, most of these holders cope with a variety of different sizes and, as you can see from the photo at the start of this article, our PilotLink is held very securely by the spare holder we found in the office.

Mounting of the phone holder is easy, with the suction cup temporarily fixing to the front window of the bridge and, once adjusted for the PilotLink, it is held firmly in place. With these phone holders available from many online resellers and prices starting at just a few pounds, it is even worth considering one for smaller vessels, as a neat way to secure your PilotLink in rough conditions.

Tempting tablet for boating – Lenovo MiiX 2 + SmarterTrack

With a price tag of around £160/$260, the Lenovo MiiX 2 is a full featured Windows 8.1 tablet (not a cut down RT version) and it might be one of the best buys for a boater.  As its operating system is regular Windows 8.1, standard marine PC software runs as it would on a notebook or dedicated PC but you get the benefit of portability, a built in GPS and  all the other features this amazing device offers.  The new Windows operating system has had a hard time in the mainstream consumer press but actually, once mastered (we’re all old hands at XP!), it brings alot of extra features.  I guess it’s like any learning curve, but once cracked it’s very stable and easy to use.

lenovo miix 8 tablet

Key features for the tablet are:

  • Bright 1280 x 800 pixel 8″ display (can be portrait or landscape orientated – good for sailing N-S or E-W!)
  • Built in GPS, BlueTooth 4, WiFi (You can use a Bluetooth mouse rather than touch screen if you prefer)
  • 32GB internal storage
  • Intel Z3740 processor
  • Mini USB port for external devices (our USB-NMEA adaptor and USB AIS products are now plug and play with an OTG USB cable)
  • Long life battery – we were navigating for a good day’s sailing and with a standard USB connection you can easily recharge from anywhere

We bought a MiiX to test our SmarterTrack software on a mobie platform.  SmarterTrack is a sophisticated, Navionic’s based PC chart plotter system which offers real time navigation, NMEA interfaces, tracking, waypoints, routes, weather overlays, AIS and much more.  It costs £250/$399 and has a unique feature in that you can copy Navionic’s charts on cartridge format to the PC’s hard drive and licence them to SmarterTrack at no extra charge.  That means you can use the same Navionic’s cartridge in your Simrad, Lowrance, Raymarine etc plotter to save on duplicated cartography costs.

Lenovo Tablet with SmarterTrack

Setup was pretty straightforward but not without a few headaches if you want to use the internal GPS.   First install SmarterTrack via a USB thumb drive or email link. Second, install and save the Navionic’s charting data from the microSD card to the tablet and thirdly get the internal GPS to work…

We reckon many users will be using the tablet as part of their boat’s integrated navigation system so there’s a good argument for fitting a Digital Yacht NMEA to wifi device so you can use a wifi link to the boats GPS, instrument and navigation data.  Our WLN10, iAIS, NavLink  and iNavHub products can all support this protocol and it’s the best solution – saving on battery life for the tablet and ensuring you’ve good accurate GPS data even when below decks as you’re not reliant on the tablet’s internal GPS.  SmarterTrack supports this TCP/IP wifi feed too.

However, we appreciate there’s a market for a totally portable solution.  Here’s how to use the internal GPS on the tablet.  The problem is that many tablets now feature GNSS devices, which provide location data via the Windows Location Platform. Unfortunately, they do not provide that data via a traditional com port, so most desktop apps simply will not work. That’s where a special software application called Localizer comes in – click here to go to their website

This low cost patch allows you to create a COM port so traditional navigation programs reliant on an NMEA 0183 com ports can function.  It works great and costs about $15

So for about £450/$660 we now have a portable 8″ high resolution (compare 1280 x 900 to a traditional plotter) GPS chart plotter system which is AIS compatible via wifi or USB and can share Navionic’s charts with many popular dedicated chart plotters.  Looking at the maths, we can see this working – fit a small chart plotter in the cockpit or at the helm and feed NMEA data to a wireless server and use this tablet for the 2nd station.

SmarterTrack New Instrument Displays

SmarterTrack software offers alot of features a regular chart plotter can’t support such as weather overlays, a sophisticated AIS overlay with CPA/TCPA alarms, log books, printing routes and more.

I think we’re finally getting some great value added integration with consumer electronics on board boats – making sailing more affordable and fun.  We’re testing next week for some other product development work but will try this set up as our primary navigator.  Please tell us your experiences too

 

5 New Products to be Launched at Southampton

SBS2013 Five New Products

A busy summer of development, sees five new Digital Yacht products having their first public viewing at the Southampton Boat Show 2013 this month.

Headlining is the GPS150 DualNav GPS/GLONASS Sensor, along with the new WL450 Long Range “All-in-one” Wi-Fi adaptor, while the new PilotLINK wireless NMEA server for Class A Transponders will appeal to larger vessels that want to get their AIS data on to iPads or Android Tablets. Also making their debut are the new S1000 AIS SART and the GV30 “Combo” GPS+AIS antenna which provides a neat and simple single antenna solution for any Class B AIS Transponder.

If you are visiting the show this year, please come by and see these new products and the rest of our exciting 2013 product range on our UK distributor, CA Clase’s stand (G091) in Ocean Hall.