Ship Radio

The Exploratorium’s AIS feed relies on several AIS streams, maintained by radio enthusiasts. The main feed is maintained by a guy in Berkeley, who we usually refer to as “the dude”. His antenna is high in the hills, and he gets great coverage of the most of the bay. The main problem with this arrangement is that he doesn’t really owe us anything, so if by any chance he goes on a two weeks vacation and right as he’s about to board the plain he realizes his machine crashes, we loose our ShipTracker exhibit for two weeks.

The solution is, of course, to build our own radio receiver, which is exactly what I did. I am turning it into an exhibit, to also show how data is collected and converted into something meaningful. I also used this opportunity to try some new things.

This is what it looks like now:


I bought a $250 Icom MXA-5000 AIS Receiver. It connects to an antenna on one side, and spits out serial data over RS232 on the other side. I decided I’m going to have two LCD displayes: one that shows raw serial data, and another one that shows the data after it has been decoded. In the middle I needed something that can handle three serial ports, wi-fi and javascript. Finally, I had an excuse to build something around a BeagleBone.

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