iKommunicate wants to keep the IoT afloat


iKommunicate is a NMEA to Signal K gateway that connects your marine electronics to the Internet of Things. 


Digital Yacht has unveiled a new interfacing technology for the marine electronics market. With hopes of enabling the Internet of Things while afloat, the team has unveiled an onboard sharing gateway called iKommunicate for use with the Signal K open source data exchange platform.

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For those unfamiliar with the nautical world, NMEA is a plug-and-play communications standard commonly used for connecting marine sensors and display units within ships. The protocol has been around for decades, and while reliable and ubiquitous, struggles to adequately support today’s smart devices, not to mention all the data that it produces. However, the tide is a-turnin’ with the introduction of a new open source platform, Signal K, which has been quietly developing over the past few years and is now ready to set sail.

Signal K looks to become the next-gen solution for marine data exchange. Intended to not only be employed for communication between instruments and sensors onboard a single vessel, but also to enable the sharing of information between multiple boats, aids to navigation, ports, marinas or any marine asset. What’s more, it has been designed in such a way that it can be easily implemented by web-based and mobile applications, and can hook boats and ships up the Internet of Things while at sea.

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This is where Digital Yacht comes into play. The Boston startup has created iKommunicate, a gateway that links NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 systems to Signal K. This allows existing marine electronics to integrate with the new standard by translating any old NMEA data that a user has onboard from their GPS, engine and equipment to the latest format.

“When you first install iKommunicate, you program the device through a simple web interface with your boat’s data — such as boat name, call sign, 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,” its creators write.

Digital Yacht’s new device is based around the existing NMEA 2000 (CAN bus) interface along with an Atmel | SMART SAM4E16E Cortex-M4 MCU running at 120MHz with 1MB RAM and a SD slot for extended storage and firmware updates. What’s more, iKommunicate can act as a server so apps can run locally on a web browser for display or configuration, or a smartphone or tablet using a raw feed of data from the gateway.

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Signal K will serve as a catalyst for developers to dream up new ideas and applications to make boating more fun, safe and affordable. For its Kickstarter launch, iKommunicate includes some built-in web apps to display navigation data and engine instruments in your browser, making it ready for use right out of the box.

Surely, the Signal K platform is exciting and can make a step change to the boating community. However, like any young protocol, it needs a catalyst of users to seed the interest for developers. The iKommunicate gateway looks to enables this by seamlessly integrating with existing systems, so that you to take advantage of this next generation of applications without changing your onboard electronics.

Interested? Head over to its Kickstarter campaign, where the Digital Yacht team has sailed right past its $20,000 goal. Delivery is expected to get underway in March 2016.

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