Our own Amrita University launched Amrita OceanNet, a networking solution that provides an Internet signal to fishing boats even when they are over 60 kilometres at sea – 45 kilometres beyond the range of cell-phone towers. The system will be a Godsend for commercial fishermen who regularly spend five to seven consecutive days outside the Internet range.
“Fisherman will finally be able to remain in touch with their families while out at sea,” explained Dr. Maneesha Sudheer, Director of Amrita Centre for Wireless Networks & Applications, the Amrita University department that developed the technology. “They can use email, Skype, Whatsapp and all other Internet-based applications.”
While Amrita OceanNet will put an end to the frustrations associated with the inability to communicate one’s location and physical-emotional conditions to relatives while at sea, it will also resolve much more serious problems – those associated with lack of connectivity with the Fisheries Department and other relevant government agencies. They can also access third-party apps specifically developed for fishermen.
“Without proper connectivity, the relevant government agencies are unable to inform fishing vessels about imminent emergencies caused by dynamic changes in weather. Nor have these departments been able to locate or track fishing vessels,” says Dr. Maneesha Sudheer. “This has always complicated search-and-rescue operations. It has also prevented them from providing real-time alerts to prevent ship collisions as well. Finally, government authorities will be able to disseminate disaster-warning messages to all the fishing vessels.”
Dr. Maneesha said the idea for Amrita OceanNet came directly from Amma. In 2010, a fishing boat in the Arabian Sea collided with a ship. Several people were injured and killed; some were never found. Saddened by this disaster, Amma asked Dr. Maneesha to develop a system to communicate, in real-time, the alerts, disaster warnings, etc. to the fishing vessels. The research was immediately started with funding from Amrita University.
Amrita OceanNet comprises an onshore base-station with Internet connectivity that boosts Internet signals. This boosted signal is then captured by fishing vessels that are equipped with a low-cost Amrita OceanNet receiver-broadcaster system. In turn, these Amrita OceanNet-equipped vessels also become broadcasters. In this way, the Internet signal – through multiple boat-to-boat hops – can extend 60 km beyond the shoreline. A Wi-Fi network is provided aboard the fishing vessel to which the fishermen connect using their smart phones.
The fishermen don’t need to buy any special handheld device. Researchers at Amrita University are also currently developing apps for at-for at-sea location tracking and alerts for collisions, maritime-boundary crossings, obstacles and inclement weather, etc.
The project was inaugurated by the Government of India’s Minister of Human Resource Development. As part of the inauguration, the minister made the first Skype call to a fisherman 60 km out to sea. The minister told the fisherman, “Even though you are far out to sea, you are very near to Amma’s heart. She will always protect you.” Amma also spoke to the fisherman using the OceanNet connection.
This project is co-funded by Amrita University and Information Technology Research Academy (ITRA), Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India.