I am a dedicated runner and can’t recall the number of times that I’ve been charged by an aggressive dog, only to see Fido slam on his brakes before crossing an electronic barrier, its perimeter instantly telegraphed to his zapper collar. Vesper Marine, based in Auckland, New Zealand, specializes in Automatic Identification System (AIS) technologies and has applied the concept of an electronically demarcated zone to a system that projects an invisible fence. Instead of containing dogs, Vesper’s Virtual AIS Beacon creates dynamic virtual aids to navigation (VAtoNs) to alert a yacht’s AIS system that the yacht is approaching shoals, low-lying islands or other points of navigational concern.
VAtoNs, which can easily be deployed and remotely reconfigured to adapt to conditions, trigger AIS alarms, so that specially marked icons appear on AIS-enabled displays (including chart plotters and multifunction displays) just like real AIS targets do. But there’s typically nothing but brine in the marker’s real-world location.
Jeff Robbins, Vesper’s co-founder and CEO, said that his firm developed the Virtual AIS Beacon to help supplement existing physical aids to navigation (AtoNs), especially in areas that are otherwise impossible or extremely difficult to protect. “Physical AtoNs are really important,” Robbins said. “VAtoNs will never pass the eyeball test, but they’re a really valuable way to augment physical buoys. Nobody is talking about ripping out lighthouses or buoys and replacing them with VAtoNs, but in remote areas it’s not a matter of replacing existing infrastructure, but rather [of] putting anything in place.”
The Virtual AIS Beacon can be mounted onshore, atop a floating buoy or on an oil rig or a large ship and consists of the actual beacon, a broadcasting antenna, a means of remote communication and a power source. Depending on the station’s location, the power supply could be a direct wire run or it could be a solar panel that powers a battery bank. Also depending on location, the beacon could be hard-wired to the Internet or it could be fitted with a cellular modem, allowing it to “talk” to its administrative software, its human masters or both.
Once the unit is online, it can transmit between one and 64 VAtoNs, which can be projected up to several miles from the station. Each Virtual AIS Beacon is designed to run 24/7/365, irrespective of weather conditions, sea state, environmental concerns or varmints, yielding a system that’s capable of operating for long periods, without physical maintenance.