Ship Finder, networked AIS for the iPhone
Should I rename the blog iPanbo? I know I’ve been focused on these marine apps a lot, but, as noted just last week, the developement velocity is awesome. I first heard about Ship Finder this morning from the good gCaptain, who is working on a similar app (with more of a professional slant, natch), and judging from Ship Finder’s web page, I didn’t even think it was Apple approved yet. But I learned otherwise when the enthusiastic developer showed up here, had copies running on iPhone and Touch in minutes, and, wow, it’s good. This, mind you, is not AIS as presented on iNavX, which functions like a little plotter; this is AIS web style, collected from multiple shore receivers, plotted on Google maps, and often annotated with much more info than what is actually sent over the AIS system. I hadn’t realized how usefully these “live” AIS feeds could work with an iPhone’s display power, portability and always-on internet connection…
But now I’m picturing the time, maybe not too far off, when I can know what’s going on AIS-wise out on the Bay, or elsewhere, wherever I am. In fact, I already know via web AIS on my PC that the gorgeous S/Y Rebecca anchored in Camden’s outer harbor yesterday afternoon (I even watched her back down), and I hope to see her in the perfectly fair aluminum flesh soon. I dare guess that a future version of Ship Plotter might make it easy to take a picture of her and add it to a communal database, like the one at MarineTraffic. Which is not to say that a boater underway wouldn’t make use of Ship Plotter info (assuming he or she lacked their own AIS plotter). The data I’ve seen so far was very fresh, and definitely could be used to ID and call a moving ship by name.
But there is a major caveat to Ship Finder 1.0. While it works great, it only supports five feeds for U.S. waters and some of those appear to be coming from a single receiver. However, the developer is keen to add more U.S. data, and a user can already add a custom XML feed created with Ship Plotter software. In other words I could set up a receiver here at Panbo HQ and serve it to any local Ship Plotter or Ship Finder users interested. But, heck, I think I’m willing to serve it to anyone anywhere — whether they’re viewing on a PC or via all the smart phone apps that will surely follow Ship Finder — and have been meaning to look into the possibilities. Besides Ship Plotter, there seem to be easy data sharing techniques supported by Marine Traffic, maybe Siitech, and probably others. I realize that there are companies building out serious AIS listening networks, and understandably charging for the data, but I think there’s room for amateur networks too. Has anyone tried AIS serving? Interested?