Navigation, Tide and Weather Information via Twitter

Marine Technology Reporter
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Twitter page showing PortM8 data. Credit: Ohmex Instruments

Whereas the proliferation of social media has generally not had dramatic impact on the b2b community, particularly in the technical realm, an interesting new service from Ohmex Ltd. was a hot topic in the hallways in Southampton: Using Twitter to deliver near real time navigation, tide and weather information direct from sensors.
The original suggestion for a Twitter based service came from a Navigation Pilot working at a small port on the N.E. coast of England using tide and weather instruments made by Ohmex Ltd. On occasions the Pilot had to escort a vessel when the harbor office was closed and nobody could relay the tide and weather information to the vessel on its approach to harbor. The IT solution proposed was for a web based service with the Pilot using a mobile phone application to view the data, this suggestion did not allow for the poor mobile signal reception offshore. The proposed Twitter solution proved the best as it was available for both web based users and also SMS text message services over GSM, the 140 character message being easily understood and including basic information such as instrument location and data age.
The measurements are based around the Ohmex PortM8 instrument, parameters include tide height, water temperature, wind speed/direction, air temperature and barometric pressure. Calculated and derived parameters include significant wave height and wave frequency.
The information is traditionally provided by the Harbormaster’s staff at a port, normally as a voice message using marine VHF radios in reply to a request. At some ports the live data is publically available through the authority’s web site or in some rare cases the data is provided electronically over AIS.

Why Twitter?
Twitter is a real-time information network service that connects to the latest information on a specific topic the user finds interesting. At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is up to 140 characters long, brief but concise information packets. Every day, millions of people use Twitter to connect to information about their interests and find out what’s happening in the world right now. Anyone can read, write and share messages of up to 140 characters on Twitter. These messages, or Tweets, are available to anyone (deemed as ‘followers’) interested in reading them, whether logged in or not.
In addition, there are some significant advantages to the medium, including:
-    Gauge location information embedded in tweets
-    UTC timestamp embedded in data tweets
-    Last two days tweets available directly on-line
-    User controlled tweet following and distribution
-    Data Tweets available as direct SMS message.
-    Data available by mobile web applications and clients.

The TweetM8 gauge is PortM8 instrument programmed to send an SMS text message over a simple GSM modem every 10 minutes. The PortM8 equipment is an autonomous low power integrated tide gauge and weather station that can be powered by a small low voltage power adaptor or by a solar panel and rechargeable battery arrangement.
The Tide Gauge element can be either a pressure transducer or a non-contact Radar sensor, the pressure transducer version has the benefit of also measuring water temperature while the radar senor has the benefit of non contact with the water level being measured The GSM modem is the preferred medium for communicating with the Twitter server, the modem’s telephone number identifies it when connecting to Twitter without any further security checks. Depending on the carrier service there is normally a short number which quickly connects the modem direct to Twitter without the need for area codes. The PortM8 only requires a minimum (12vdc 100ma) power supply which is easily achieved with rechargeable batteries and a solar panel charging system.
www.ohmex.net

 

(As published in the May 2013 edition of Marine Technologies - www.seadiscovery.com)

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