RTCM 2010 Annual Meeting - Monday Afternoon

By Brian at May 20, 2010 14:40
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Monday afternoon at RTCM began with a panel providing updates on standards and regulations.

Larry Solomon of the Coast Guard gave a good overview of the legal framework in the US for regulating communications - including the establishment of the FCC under the Communications Act of 1934

The FCC presentation provided a summary of pending actions, including many submissions from the USCG:
 - Possible addition of an AIS section to Part 80 rules
 - AIS AtoN and AIS-SART use and certification
 - Reconciliation of MMSI requirements for Class A and Class B AIS

Jorge Arroyo gave an update of USCG regulatory issues:
 - The codification of the Inland rules was effective today (17 May 2010) - see my earlier post on this and why I think it’s significant.
 - Status of SOLAS Chapter V and ECS regulations, which are intended to implement SOLAS changes from 2000 in US regulations, as well as navigation equipment requirements for US laws.  Jorge also touched on some of the capabilities that were being considered for inclusion in the requirements for ECS, including integration of AIS capability.  The SC109 working group on ECS is meeting on Wednesday and more details will be available then.  The ECS regulation is hoed to be out of Coast Guard HQ by the end of 2010, so actual publication of the final rule will be at lest a year after that (likely more) and you can anticipate a phased implementation, so it will be at least two years before these requirements are in place  (my estimate).  However, development of ECS to meet these regulations will continue, so there we can anticipate improved ECS capabilities in advance of the rulemaking. 
 - Status of the expanded AIS carriage requirements regulation - The USCG is reviewing and considering about 80 comments received during the comment period that closed about a year ago (April 2009).  There is no current timeline for final rule but there will be one issued in October 2010 - so it will not be out before then.  There are several challenges associated with this regulation; standards and technology are moving forward and regulatory developments need to keep up with them.  Addressing the use of Class B is complicated and the USCG received many comments on this (the NPRM asked specifically for input on use of Class Bs) and the Navigation Safety Advisory Council (NAVSAC) issued a resolution with their recommendation.  Finally, the regs also need to consider the development of the SOTDMA Class B device.

Jorge reminded the audience about the AIS FAQ page on the NAVCEN website which includes an excellent new entry on “how do I program my AIS” which is intended to address the root cause of most “bad” AIS data - that which requires operator input and update.
The NAVCEN site also includes mention of a soon-to-be issued Safety Alert cautioning about the use of AIS for distress communications.

The afternoon session concluded with a session on weather; a couple of speakers covered the “past, present and future” of marine weather forecasting.  One presentation included a photo of a USCG PBY dropping a hurricane warning to a sailing fishing boat - I didn’t know the USCG used to fly out to sea and drop hurricane warnings to vessels back before radio warnings.   There was also a presentation on the NOAA PORTS® system that included mention of the efforts to transmit their data via AIS; the subject of a more detailed presentation on Tuesday.

RTCM 2010 Annual Meeting - Monday Morning

By Brian at May 18, 2010 16:11
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I’m attending the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services (RTCM) Annual Meeting in San Diego this week, and will try to post updates on items of interest that come up at the meeting.
The morning of day 1 (Monday, 17 May) was devoted to business, review of the agenda and upcoming working group meetings.  There will be some interesting meetings on Weds and Thurs: Electronic Navigation Charts (SC109), e-Navigation Steering Group and AIS (SC121).

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) report included some intriguing mentions of AIS-related work, including development of the 2nd  edition of the Class A AIS, AIS repeaters, an SOTDMA version of the Class B AIS and limited base station.  Also mentioned were the development of an “AIS EPIRB” and AIS for man overboard - these were met with some concern about the possible “mission creep” of AIS - a navigation safety system - being used for distress and rescue.

The technical sessions began with a presentation analyzing the methods used to notify USCG of distress.  This analysis will be used to make a business case for continuing or discontinuing various SAR communications capabilities.

Joe Hersey gave his annual presentation on the threats to the maritime radio spectrum - this years’ focused on the “National Broadband revolution” which promises to bring more internet accessibility, via WiMAX, better cellular data coverage, cheaper satellite broadband and otehr wireless means.  On the positive side, Joe said this expansion may help enable e-Navigation capabilities, but there would be limited benefits to maritime users from shore-based capabilities.  More importantly, there would be possible negative effects on maritime users as it may result in a “spectrum land-grab” and radio spectrum for maritime use is vulnerable.  For example, there may be a reallocation of marine spectrum; e.g., marine radars may be in the same band as high-power military radars (there was a presentation about the effect of high-powered radars on GPS antennas at RTCM a few years ago that included some cool pictures of GPS antennas destroyed by high-power radars).  Joe also provided a good overview of why the US spectrum for maritime VHF is different than international, due to allocations for railroad, commercial, public safety and others that have chipped away at maritime spectrum.

Sea-Tow provided a presentation on their radio system, which appears to be pretty sophisticated and flexible.  It uses voice over IP and they have the ability to configure it via computer software, which allows them to monitor their radios from different places, so they can have a single watchstander monitor a very broad area.  They also demonstrated their “automated radio check” capability - mariners can tune to the appropriate channel for their area, transmit a radio check and it’s automatically replayed back to them.  This is supposed to cut down on use of channel 16 for radio checks; we’ll see how that works out.

More on Monday afternoon's session and Tuesday's session as I get time to post.

Efficiency, reliability and e-Navigation

By Brian at May 16, 2010 11:22
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A spate of articles in the national and Pittsburgh area press (see here and here) highlight the aging infrastructure on the inland waterways.  While this aging infrastructure is "hard" (i.e., concrete and steel) there is a "soft" part of the infrastructure that will be critical in dealing with these problems.  As the hard infrastructure ages and is (hopefully) repaired or replaced, there will be a need to operate the diminished capacity more efficiently and reliably.  e-Navigation has a critical role to play here - in disseminating information about infracture outages (e.g., lock repairs) providing estimates of their resolution and assisting vessels using the waterways in operating more effciently and smoothly.  For example, by making sure shipping companies know about waterways infrastructre restrictions, they can better plan vessel voyages.  Vessel operaors (pilots) will know the status of the waterways they are on, and can adjust speed or operations, saving money (less fuel burned) and time (e.g., accomplishing logistics or repairs without delayin the transit).  And lock operators can perform maintenance and repair based on knowledge of anticipated vessel movements.

Ideally, e-Navigation services will help to keep the hard infrastructure more reliable, providing real-time information on infrastructure usage and condition, allowing better maintenance decisions to be made.  Of course, there has to be a recognition by those controlling the purse strings that "soft" infrastructure - such as that needed for e-Navigation - is still infrastructure, and needs to be supported as much as concrete and steel.

This equipment control console at one of the Pittsburgh area locks (running on a 286 (!) processor):

needs attention as much as this crumbling concrete lock wall:

(We were warned not to walk too close to the edge; and prohibited from venturing onto the guidewall beyond the lock gates)

I sure hope this isn't the direction e-Navigation is taking us...

By Brian at April 13, 2010 06:18
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This story is slim on details but I don't think these are the systems that need to be integrated on the bridge...

I'm hoping to find the atual investigation report that is mentioned in this (and other) articles, but no luck so far.