Sunday, December 11, 2016

Signal K and the WihelmSK App

Application: iPad, iPhone Apple Watch, iOS 9.03 or later
Function: Marine Data
Rating: *****
Cost: Signal K free/Open source, WihelmSK $19.99

What the heck is Signal K?

Signal K is new modern open source data format for use with marine electronics. Signal K is based on web communications and display technologies which makes it available to anyone who wants to build systems to use and display marine data. This is truly an open format available for anyone to contribute to and help develop.  A whole new world of possibilities has been made available by converting data from a closed standard proprietary NMEA format to open Signal K standard.

The compatibility of marine electronics was very limited years ago due to the many proprietary protocols of each company. The National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) 0183 standard was developed in the early 1980s in an effort to provide a standard protocol for marine electronic device communications. NMEA 0183 is a serial protocol that defines how data is transmitted from one device to another. As modern electronics and chart plotters began to develop manufactures realized it had many data and bandwith limitations. The NMEA 0183 was finally updated with the NMEA 2000 protocol in about 2005.

NMEA 2000 had been in development since about 1994. It was developed cooperatively by over 40 manufacturers and organizations including the US Coast Guard.  It was intended to facilitate interconnection and interchangeability of the new digital marine electronics. The NMEA 2000 format allowed for greater bandwith, additional data types, standard connectivity and a faster network style format.  The NMEA 2000 format has worked well and was a much welcome update to the older NMEA 0183 standard.

The creation of the Internet, mobile devices and especially the iPhone in 2007 along with the development of marine apps created the next revolution in the marine industry.  Suddenly the need for this NMEA data had exploded and boaters with mobile devices were hungry for access to it.

The Signal K revolution was started as an open source project by several marine boating enthusiasts back in about 2014 as far as I can tell. The project members develop and supply the software code to anyone wanting to use it or help develop it further.  Signal K received a big boost when Digital Yacht launched a KickStarter project for a Signal K device called iKommunicate. This was well received by the many "early adopter" marine electronic enthusiasts and Digital Yacht has since produced the device for sale. It is available for $299.

The Signal K code can be easily run on a Raspberry Pi server also. The Raspberry Pi 3.0 board can be purchased for about $35 on Amazon. The full installation instructions for the software can be located on the Signal K site. The Raspberry Pi will then wirelessly provide the Signal K marine data to any mobile device over WiFi.

Getting the NMEA 2000 or 0183 data to your Raspberry Pi can be achieved by using a signal converter which plugs into the Pi's USB connection. Actisense is one company that produces these devices. If your onboard instruments are NMEA 2000, the Actisense NGT-1 can connect to your 2000 network and convert the data to USB. A Google search found several companies offering them from $169 to $189. If your marine instruments are the older NMEA 0183, Digital Yacht makes an adapter cable to convert the data to USB for about $55 on Defender.com.

Still in it's infancy, Signal K is starting to receive more support from hardware manufacturers, app developers and programmers.  Apps are now being written to accommodate any data type and display it in digital, analog, line or bar chart display.

Wilhelm is one new app that was developed by a long time programmer and sailor, Scott Bender. He wanted the flexibility to display marine data the way he wanted on a variety of devices. The $20 app is impressive and has the versatility to display a variety of marine data. The list of feature is extensive as seen below.


Features: 

Supported Connections:
  • Signal K REST api or streaming 
  • iKommunicate REST api or streaming 
Connection Configuration:
  • Apple Watch support 
  • Manual configuration of ip/hostname and port 
  • Signal K discovery via Bonjour 
  • iKommunicate discovery via Bonjour
Raymarine Auto Pilot Support:
  • View or change current mode (Standby, Auto, Wind, Track)
  • View current target heading or Wind direction
  • Change target heading or Wind direction
Alarms and Notifications:
  • View list of current current alarms
  • Acknowledge Raymarine "Turn To Waypoint' 
  • Push notification support 
  • Setup server side alarms 
  • Set an anchor alarm with the push of a button 
Gauges:
  • Raymarine MFD: display and interact with a Raymarine MFD (discovered via Bonjour)
  • Water Temperature
  • AWA
  • AWA and COG
  • AWS
  • Drift
  • Set
  • TWA
  • TWS
  • GWA (Ground wind angle and speed calculated internally from AWS, AWA and COG)
  • GWS
  • Battery Voltage
  • Alternator Voltage
  • RPM
  • Coolant Temperature
  • Oil Pressure
  • Oil Temperature
  • True Heading
  • Magnetic Heading
  • Pitch
  • Roll
  • Yaw
  • SOG
  • COG
  • GPS Position (with link to Apple Maps)
  • XTE
  • Water Speed
  • Distance to Waypoint
  • Route ETA
  • Time to Waypoint (computed internally from DTW and SOG)
  • Depth (adjusted via depth offset)
  • Fuel Tank Level
  • Black Water Tank Level
  • Fresh Water Tank Level
  • Rudder Angle 
  • AWA Close Hauled
  • Engine Run time
  • GNSS Date 
  • GNSS Time
  • GNSS Date/Time
  • Atmospheric Pressure
  • Create a gauge for any value available via Signal K
  • Customize gauge display using Signal K meta.zones
  • Wind Angle gauges can optionally be rotated to the bow, regardless of device positioning
  • Place gauges by long pressing on a gauge and choosing a different one
  • Make a gauge full screen by double tapping
  • Multiple layout support. Create a different layout for Steaming, Sailing, Home Monitoring, etc.
  • Customize the number of pages and layout
  • Manual connection configuration synced across devices via iCloud
  • Automatic connection selection based on current IP (useful when Bonjour is not available and you have multiple boats)
  • Dark and light themes
  • Animated gauge needles
  • iPad Slide over and Split View support (Your gauge configuration can be customized for these views)
  • Connections refreshed manually or at specific intervals
  • Design your own custom gauge templates
  • Share templates via Air Drop, eMail, Text, etc.
  • Edit ApplyTV or other device layouts and templates remotely using your iPhone or iPad
  • Digital or analog gauges
  • Enter the Signal K path and title for any gauge to show data not supported by default

The list of gauges that WilhelmSK supports is impressive. The app has the versatility to display over 40 different parameters and more are being added with each release. The gauges can be displayed in either digital or analog format with light or dark backgrounds.  

The app displays can be customized in several ways by the user which allows development of personalized displays. Several instrument layouts can be developed to include the data in the desired groupings.  You can even develop displays for the Apple Watch.

WilhelmSK Apple Watch
The app should work with any Signal K server. Digital Yacht's iKommunicate device and the low cost Raspberry Pi servers can be configured as well. These devices have to be connected physically with your onboard instrument's NMEA 0183 or 2000 networks. The data is then provided from the server over WiFi to your mobile device. 

Apple Watch support is also provided. How cool would that be to have all your boat's instrument data available on your wrist. Alarms could alert you to problems on board that you might otherwise miss. My mind is just racing at all the possibilities for using this technology.

I applaud the Signal K group and programmers like Scott Bender who are blazing a new trail in the marine data industry. Making data available in a non proprietary open source format sure make sense to me. 

Other app and devices that support Signal K are listed below. I am sure this list of apps and servers will explode within the next year as this new and open source protocol catches on. 
I am excited for the marine industry and the future of Signal K. This effort will allow the average user to create their own displays and better utilize all the marine information for hopefully a safer and more enjoyable boating experience.

So who is ready to buy a Raspberry Pi and get started?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sony SRS-XB3 Pairable Bluetooth Speakers

I know this is a little different than my usual Marine App post but I thought it might be of interest to some of you. As a sailor I am always looking for technology that will make my boating experience easier and more enjoyable.

Entertainment on your yacht will most likely includes some form of music. Most sound systems on boats are hardwired into the vessel's 12 volt power supply. A set of wires then has to be run to each of the speakers at various points around the boat. This means the installation can be messy and expensive. That is the traditional "old school" way to set up a stereo system on your yacht.

Everyone now carries around a cell phone or mobile device. These phones are little super computers that not only allow us to communicate but to also run a variety of marine app which I have written about in this blog. My phone already has all of my favorite music and some video on it so, why not build an entertainment system around that? I also have a blog for my S2 22 ft sailboat in which I shared my design for the Ultimate On Board Entertainment System. This included the an iPhone, a WiFi router, an AppleTV and some AirPlay speakers.
iHome IW3 AirPlay Speaker

Bluetooth and AirPlay speakers have been around for several years now and I own several of them. They offered an easier mobile solution to my entertainment needs. I liked the idea of not having to drill holes and run wires all over my boat. In my blog post I designed my system around the Apple TV which I converted to 5 or 12 volts to either run off of USB or 12 volt power. I wanted to be able to have more than one speaker so I pursued the use of AirPlay speakers which require that the boat have a WiFi router that both the speakers and my iPhone can connect to. This worked fine and I have been using it for the past few years.

My latest discovery, which you may already know is that the latest version of Bluetooth allows more than on speaker to be connected to each other and then be connected to a device providing a true mobile wireless stereo system.

I researched the latest Bluetooth speakers and found a few that have this capability. Some of these manufacturers are Sony, JBL Flip 3 with JBL connect, Sharkk and Logitech UE Boom and SoundBot Quadio.  Those are a few of the speakers that I found with the capability to be paired together and there may be others.

Sony SRS-XB3 Bluetooth speakers
I chose the Sony SRS-SBX-3 model after some research and watching some YouTube videos. This model has a large rechargeable battery with a long 24 hour run time. The speakers come is several colors and normally run about $149 but I purchased some on Amazon for $98.

Specifications:
  • 2 Channel speakers + passive radiators
  • Extra Bass
  • Audio in jack
  • Bluetooth Version 3.0
  • Remembers 8 paired devices
  • Weight 32.8 oz
  • Compatible sound formats A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP
  • Range 32.8ft
  • Condenser microphone
  • Noise suppression for phone calls
  • Omni directional speaker
  • Li Ion battery, 24 hour battery life
  • AC charger
  • Auto Power off after 15 Min
  • NFC, Android Near Field Communication
  • 20-20,000 frequency response
  • 30 Watts power
  • Dimensions L 8.31 X H 3.15 X W 2.37
  • Audio In jack
  • 5 Volt USB charging outlet
  • Water resistant IPX5 rating
I liked that the speakers were very compact and re-chargeable so I could not only use them inside my boat but I could move them out into the cockpit or take them ashore for a beach party if I wanted.

They are water resistant so a little rain or sea spray will not damage them. Mounting options are limited but I found Velcro works nicely to hold them into place on a bulkhead or shelf.

The speakers have seven button on top of the speaker to control the functionality. These include the Power button, Volume Up and Down, Phone, Add, Pairing and Extra Bass.

The Power Button will power the speaker on and it will also power down the the speaker and the other speaker that it is paired with.  This is convenient not having to go to each speaker and power them down separately.

The volume Up and Down buttons control volume on both the speaker and the other speaker that it is paired with. Volume can also be controlled from your mobile device's volume controls.

The Pairing button is used to connect the speaker to your mobile device and to a second speaker if desired. Make sure to turn on Bluetooth in your mobile device's settings. Press and hold down the pairing button until you hears some beeps which puts the speaker into pairing mode. The pairing indication will flash rapidly white. Go to Bluetooth settings on your device and select SRS-XB3. Once the speaker is paired it will remember your device. The speakers will remember up to 8 devices and automatically pair to your mobile device the next time it is used.

The Add button is used to pair an additional Sony SRS-XB3 speaker to the existing speaker. The speakers have to be paired with each other before they can be paired with your mobile device. First turn on one speaker and hold the Add button down until you hear a tone. Next turn on the other speaker and select the Add button again. This will pair the two speakers together.

Next to the Add button you will see a L and R indication light.  Once the speakers are paired together, tapping the Add button will change between stereo, left and right channels or mono natural. When L is selected on one speaker and R is selected on other this will give you true stereo channel separation for an awesome sound.  Selecting both L and R on each speaker will give you both channels in each speaker. I have not seen many speakers allowing the stereo channel separation option.

Once the two speakers are paired together you can then pair your mobile device to the first speaker that has the pairing indication flashing.

The Extra Bass button provides just that. Pressing this allows each speaker to delivery a richer and deeper bass sound. When the two speakers are paired together pressing this on one speaker enables it on both speakers.

On the back of the speaker behind a pop off door are the connections for the DC in for charging the speaker, USB DC out for charging a mobile device, audio in jack and a reset button.  The USB DC charging feature is another option that could come in handy if your mobile device needs charging.

I am sure there are other more expensive Bluetooth options out there for mobile speakers but for $98 on Amazon, these little speakers are an awesome set with many capabilities.

What are you using on board your boat for speakers and entertainment systems? Please comment below and let me know what is working for you.

~~~~ Sail On ~~~~/)
Mark

Saturday, September 24, 2016

FLIR One for iOS and Android

Application: iPhone, iPad, iOS>7.0, Android devices
Function: Thermal Imaging, night vision
Rating: *****
Cost: FLIR One $249, Apps are Free

All images compliments of FLIR
The iOS and Android mobile devices are impacting every industry on the planet. These small computers and apps that we carry around in our hands can do some pretty amazing things. My blog is primarily focused on marine charting, weather and navigation apps. The application of a thermal imaging device is a bit of a sidebar but I thought it was interesting, useful and very applicable to the marine industry.

The digital imaging capabilities of the iPhone make it perfect for a thermal imaging device. FLIR is one of the leading thermal imaging companies in the world.  FLIR makes commercial imaging cameras and devices for a variety of uses including night vision, fire fighting, law enforcement, security and surveillance, safety, electrical maintenance, search and rescue, marine, energy efficiency.

I reviewed the iPhone 5/5s FLIR One thermal imaging device in a blog post back in 2014. That device retailed for $349 and was more of a case version that the iPhone fit into. Rather than trying to keep up with the ever changing sizes of each iPhone release, FLIR created a more universal device which connects through the lightning charging port on the bottom of the iPhone or iPad. There is an Android version also.

Their latest addition to their product line is the FLIR One compact dongle that can be attached to your iPhone or iPad which allows you to see the infrared spectrum on your devices display. The Android version connect to the micro USB of that device.

The FLIR ONE dongle uses MSX technology which utilizes two cameras to scan images. One camera picks up the thermal imaging spectrum and the other picks up a visual image. The two images are combined to create a unique viewable image.

Features:
  • Measures temperature from -4 degrees F to 248 degrees F(-20 C to 120 C)
  • FLIR MSX technology
  • Lepton imaging technology
  • Attaches to iOS devices through the lightning connection
  • Attaches to Android devices through the micro USB port
  • Capture still or video images .mov
  • Panorama
  • Time lapse
  • Close up
  • 7 Dynamic video display palettes, rainbow, BW, WB, rainbow, contrast, arctic, hot and cold and iron
  • Social media sharing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email and text
  • Internal re-chargable 350 mAh battery
  • Battery monitor
  • Copy image to camera roll
  • Detects temperature differences of about one-tenth of a Fahrenheit degree, and the temperature readout is accurate to within 2 degrees
  • Observe heat sources, heat differences, fire, overheating equipment or components
  • See through smoke and haze
  • Detect insulation leaks and energy efficiency problems
  • Aid in man overboard nigh time situations 
  • One year warranty
Boat Beacon Man overboard
There are several apps that can be used to display the thermal images. The popular Boat Beacon app has incorporated the use of the FLIR One into its augmented reality display. Other iOS apps can be found in the App Store such as Thermal Compare and the FLIR One Paint app.  Check out FLIR's list of all compatible apps for the FLIR One.

This device can be used for many applications around your home or on you boat. I can think of many uses including checking engine temperature, exhaust or hot spots, checking insulation around windows and refrigerator seals. This app could help you see hot spots and locate faulty wiring connections.
Boat Beacon Augmented reality night vision
On a boat it might be useful in a man overboard situation. This thermal imaging device could help you locate a person by their thermal signature on a pitch black night.

There are marine apps that have incorporated this functionality into their displays. The image from Pocket Mariner's Boat Beacon app shows what their augmented reality app display looks like. This night vision display make it easy to pick out other boats and ships in the area. Pocket Mariner has a blog post about the use of augmented reality night vision display using the Flir One dongle attached to an iPhone.

I am a real gadget guy and think it would be cool to have one but would this really be something I would use on a daily basis. I am still on the fence. The price of $249 makes it a little more attractive.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who may have this device or a night vision scope. Do you find these devices handy or are they just an expensive piece of gear one could live without?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark




Saturday, May 28, 2016

Airmar OnSiteWX Weather and Instrument Display

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iOS 6 or greater
Function: Weather and Boat Instrument data display
Rating: *****
Cost: Free


Instrument data is more prevalent than ever on modern cruising yachts. Having easy access to this data can be very useful for monitoring your yachts engine performance and function.

Sailors will be interested in instrument data like Speed, COG, Wind speed and Direction. The ever popular Depth indication is needed on all yachts. Most of these can be viewed from the helm station or at the chart table if you have instrument repeaters.

Having all of your instrument data broadcast over WiFi makes it available to mobile devices like tablets or mobile phones wherever you are on the boat.

There are many NMEA to WiFi devices that can be connected to your navigation systems to broadcast the data over WiFi. I have written about many of these apps over the years on this blog.  I have a list of my top 10 instrument data apps shown here. I think this app may be worthy to make the list.

I recently acquired a DMK Marine 11a module for my yacht.
This device has the option of connecting to NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000 or Raymarine SeaTalk instruments and broadcasting this data over WiFi.  The versatility of this unit is the reason I selected it.

MillPort Media has developed an app called OneSiteWx to display all kinds of weather and NMEA 0183 and 2000 data. It is compatible with all the Airmar weather station products so it can provide all the weather data directly to your mobile device.

The app is unique in that it can provide weather data but also can display any of your boats NMEA 2000 or 0183 data.The app is available from the AppStore from here.

There are several pages of instruments already developed for the most popular readings you will need.  Custom pages can also be created with 1, 2, 3 or 4 instruments per page so you can group the instruments as needed.

Features:

  • Custom pages
  • Air temp Celsius or Farenheight
  • Air pressure
  • Wind speed and direction, true and apparent
  • Water depth and temperature
  • System time and date
  • GPS position
  • COG/True or Magnetic
  • Heading True or Magnetic
  • Pitch and roll
  • Page selection
  • Black and white gauge display
  • Digital or analog gauge display
  • US or Metric units
  • Tachometer
  • Speedomenter
  • WiFi capable
  • NMEA 2000 and 0183
  • Compitable with SeaSmart SSN2K, HelmSmart, DMK 11a, Navico GoFree, Digital Yacht NavLink, WLN10, Miniplex 2Wi, Vesper Marine and MailaSail Redbox.
  • Optional dual engine speed fuel tank gauges available with an in app purchase.
The beauty of this OnSiteWX app is that you can use the standard pages to display data and you can also create custom pages of any grouping of instruments that you want.

Select the green MENU button on the upper right of the app display. The Menu page contains the options to display some Demo data on the displays, Select Display Preferences, Manage pages, Create custom pages and more.

Select Create Custom Pages to develop your own pages for the data you want to display. A screen with four selections will come up. Select the number of instruments per page. Simply hold your finger down on the instrument and a menu of instrument types will come up.

Select the instrument type for each of the custom instrument displays on your page. 

There are 60 different types of instrument to select from.  The custom display can then be save or renamed for your reference. 

The Adapter Selection provides a list of the many WiFi devices that the app is compatible with. The adapter is the device that provides your yachts weather and marine data over WiFi. If your WiFi device is not listed select the NEW button on the top to create the IP address, port and protocol settings for your device.

I am impressed with the OnSiteWX app not only for the ability to display all the weather data I need but that it also can display all of my instrument data from my yacht. Having all of this data in one app makes it more convenient and easily accessible. This means I don't have to jump between several apps the get the data I need.  

The apps is free so you can't complain about the price. It is definitely worth picking up and giving it a try.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Weather4D 2.0

Application: iPhone, iPad, iOS7, iOS9 and Android 4.2
Function: Marine Weather Forecasting and Route planning
Rating:*****
Price: $49.99

Weather4D 2.0 is one of those apps that has become a big game changer in the area of marine weather and routing. I originally reviewed Weather4D back in 2011 and was impressed with the new and unique way weather information was presented in the app.

APP4NAV LLC has continued to add features and functionality to the app to keep me coming back. I have reviewed many weather apps over the years and this one ranks near the top as one of my favorites.

As a boater you all know weather can either make or break your day on the water. It pays to know what your up against when heading out for the day. If your a geek like me you will appreciate the versatility of the this app. The app has several versions both for iOS and Android devices. The table below shows the features with each version.


Marine  Charts:

The app can display a variety of charts. Raster charts can be downloaded from the chart server at Geogarage. The following countries are supported. 
  • USA NOAA Raster charts
  • Canada CHS
  • Bahamas WLP
  • Brazil DHN
  • Argentina SHN
  • France SHOM
  • Polynesia TOM
  • United Kingdom UKHO
  • Germany GSH
  • Netherlands NLHO
  • Australia AHS
  • New Zealand LINZ
Features:




  • Multiple Weather models
  • Apple Watch support
  • Cloud cover
  • Precipitation, rain and snow
  • Wind 10M above sea level
  • Temperatures 2 M above sea level
  • Barometric pressure
  • CAPE
  • Wave heights, period, direction
  • Currents speed and direction
  • World maps Bing and OSM
  • Weather 4D 2.0 comes with free GFS .025, .5 and 1 degree models
  • Data model include NOAA GFS, NAM, CMC, GEM, WRF, FNMOC WW3, MyOcean and Tidtech, Arpege and Arome French, Aroma HD models with in app purchases
  • 1 Year HD Forecasts subscription $33.99
  • 10 day forecasts
  • 3, 12 and 24 hr data
  • Worldwide coverage
  • Resolution to .025, .1,.25, .5, 1 and 2 degrees
  • Data updated every 6 hours 4 times a day.
  • Isochonuos routing for motor or sail
  • Import KMP and GPX files
  • Iridium satellite prediction paths
  • Satellite download of weather data
  • Import GRIB type 1 files from email, SailDocs and Safari
  • "Open In" feature for file imports
  • Routing with Polar diagrams
  • AIS by Internet through AIS Hub displayed in Blue
  • NMEA WiFi support
  • NMEA AIS targets displayed in Green
  • Navigation displays SOG, COG and distance of route legs


  • Navigation:

    Weather4D 2.0 is much more than a weather app. It can provide weather and routing data on marine charts from a variety of hydrographic services in many countries.

    The navigation features include recording waypoints, simulating routes, displaying latitude, longitude, GRIB data and weather overlays.  

    The navigation mode also displays instruments that provide real time data. The instruments include SOG, COG, VMC, DTW, BTW and ETA. Data can be received from an external WiFi connection and can include AIS data through a NMEA TCP/IP connection. So you can display all your onboard instruments within the app. Your boat instruments will need to be connected to an onboard WiFi router.

    Routes can be downloaded from navigation apps like iNavX to be displayed in Weather4D 2.0. 

    Routing:


    Weather4D has a very powerful weather routing feature integrated into the app. Polar diagrams for your sailboat can be programmed into the app so it can predict the best route for your vessel. 

    The GRIB weather data must then be downloaded for the duration of your passage. A route with waypoints then needs to be downloaded in GPX or KML format from a navigation app such as iNavX.


    Once Weather4D knows the route it overlays the weather and calculates the best possible route for your vessel taking into account the latest weather information.  Very few apps are able to do these very sophisticated calculations.

    Several cruisers that I follow on YouTube have had great success with the app and another similar app called Predict Wind.  Make sure to check both of these out to see which one works better for you.

    These apps don't come cheap but they may be a better value than hiring a weather routing agency to do the work for you. The Weather4D app cost $49.99 and if you want the additional forecast models those will run another $33.99 for a years subscription.

    If your crossing oceans and making long passages Weather4D may be for you. It can provide all the weather data you will ever need and give you confidence with routing for the conditions you will experience on your passage. Add in the ability to download weather data from a satellite connection and you have the total package. 

    I would like to hear if anyone has had experience using Weather4D. Francis Fustier has an apps blog site named Navigation Mac. He has worked extensively with the authors of Weather4D and has developed a users guide outlining all the features of the app. You can access all of these Weather4D reviews and tutorials on his website. 

    ~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
    Mark