Project tests Satellite applications at Sea
27 Apr 2004
A collaborative pilot project between five Canadian private and public sector organizations is testing several e-commerce applications in ship trials. Internet access, e-learning, banking services and potentially Telemedicine, are only some of the applications being made available to passengers and crew aboard five vessels.
Partially funded by ESA, the MeCA project built on the successes of an earlier ESA funded project: MIST (Marine Interactive Satellite Technologies) which brought a wireless sickbay, tourism information kiosks and Internet access to ships at sea.
MeCA has incorporated a shared resource MF-TDMA technology compared to SCPC technology on MIST giving the system better satellite resource utilization, as well as expanding the suite of available applications.
MeCA began a year ago and will continue in pilot phase for another year. It is a partnership between Telesat, Collaborative Network Technologies Inc. (Colabnet), Memorial University of Newfoundland's Marine Institute, SmartLabrador, Marine Atlantic and the Woodward Group of Companies.
Marine Atlantic provides passenger and cargo ferry services between the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Canadian mainland, while the Woodward's vessels provide passenger and cargo services to coastal Labrador.
Marine Atlantic has experience with similar projects. The company has tested teletourism programs on board ships, as well as a mobile medical service which linked one of its vessels to a hospital in ashore.
The ship used a 2.4-metre antenna on C-band for that project. The antenna has since been converted to MF-TDMA from SCPC technology and will be converted to Ku-band at a later date to align with four other ships operating at MF- TDMA Ku-band.
In the MeCA project, Marine Atlantic equipped three of its vessels with satellite and networking equipment and hardware in order to run a variety of applications. All three have Bank Cash Dispensers for passenger use.
The Bank Cash Dispensers are serial-based, which according to Murray Hupman, CIO for Marine Atlantic, presented some difficulties: "We had to buy some unusual converters to tunnel the serial signal through an IP network to an on-shore modem."
Other applications Marine Atlantic has in mind include wireless Internet access via several wireless access points on board ship. Marine Atlantic has also equipped its vessels with video-conferencing so that the crew can conduct meetings with staff on shore. This is very useful for crews which spend much of the year at sea.
And the company is also testing the possibility of offering online courses to crew while they are at sea. 'The Learners at Sea ' (LAS) system developed by Colabnet will provide the ability to offer marine training and certification courses from the Marine Institute that can be completed while on the vessel.
E-banking and instantaneous credit card transactions will also be available.
"The possibilities of what can be accomplished while at sea increase exponentially when satellite technology is introduced," said Paul Bush, vice-president of broadcasting and corporate development at Telesat.
2.4 metre C-band antenna
For Telesat, MeCA represents a way not only to test the viability of shipboard communications, but the robustness of satellite technology in remote environments.
"Anything that we're able to prove in a marine application, we can also use in a fixed application on the ground," said Bush. "The same application for telemedicine and e-commerce we will use in communities in Labrador, northern Ontario, and any areas where there's not access to terrestrial facilities."
According to Bush, trials at sea have resulted in some applications that were previously unthought-of. Telemedicine can be used to remotely diagnose a patient, but the same principal can be applied to troubleshooting technology. Using videoconferencing, a technician on shore can render an opinion on technology at sea and advise the crew accordingly.
"There's a few applications that I think they hadn't thought of that are coming out of it and that's really what we want to see," said Bush.
To read more about MeCA from Telesat click under related links at the top-right of this page.
Ship images courtesy of Telesat.
Last Update: 25 May 2009