IoT in the maritime industry

Today I would like to present to You the advantages of the IoT in the maritime industry. First the most important is to answer correctly the question, what the IoT really means?

What is the IoT?

IoT stands for Internet of Things. If You would ask someone from ashore, he will refer to that as a wireless connection of physical devices to the internet. Which is not completely true. Because industrial installation can be hardwired. Hardwire installation still can be in the IoT standard. The general architecture of the system is looking like the graphic above.

Cloud – in Industrial Internet of Things

Basically, IoT is the standard where we have centralized control, in the cloud, where we have our main control software. What is the best, this cloud can be present locally onboard the vessel! So this is technically possible to have a vessel that is not connected to the internet network, but it is done in IoT standard. Cloud is the heart of our system. All processes, control, and monitoring are happening there.

Gateway – IoT in the maritime industry

The second part, of the IoT system in the maritime industry, is the gateway. Gateway is used to communicate between the components, as sensors and machinery, and the Cloud. Gateways can be also configurated in that way, to provide only selective information between each other and complete information only to a cloud. Or opposite way, if that are the needs of a certain project.

Things – what are the things?

The last part is “physical” elements, which are working on board the vessels, such as machinery and all kinds of sensors.

I hope, now everyone knows what is Industrial IoT. Now let’s talk about a bit more important stuff. FOR WHAT?! Who can answer these questions better, than the expert?

IoT in the maritime industry Expert: Ion Iuncu

Ion is an IoT (Internet of Things) expert with 7+ years of experience in designing and developing IoT solutions for both research and commercial applications. Passionate about rapid prototyping and lean product development. Adept in Big Data and Machine Learning technologies. 

What are the benefits of Iot in comparison to standard automation networks?

Ion: I believe that the main advantage of IoT as compared to classical PLC automation is the easy accessibility and low entry cost. For both, developers and business owners. As an example, an engineer who intends to start his career in PLC automation. Need background in electrical engineering and/or software development, followed by courses about specific PLC systems. When starting a new job, an engineer would need to familiarize himself with new IDEs, Software development kits, architectures. Additionally hardware models and even programming languages specific to the PLC supplier of the company. One of the reasons for this is the fact that PLC manufacturers prefer to keep their products propitiatory. Meaning that the devices of one supplier are most likely not compatible with the devices of another one.

Mateusz: That’s true, every maker is trying to create their own devices. That’s how they make money. However, that systems are difficult to modify after some time. A good example is if You like to connect several subsystems realized by different control makers into one control system. It could be very tricky. Here, with help can come to IoT?

IoT ecosystem

Ion: The IoT ecosystem on the other hand is based on a multitude of open-source protocols, standards, and programming languages. Due to the recent developments in the semiconductor industry and the popularization of SoC (System on Chip), the IoT devices can now run popular full Operating System distributions such as Ubuntu (Linux distribution). Due to that, it is common to meet IoT engineers, who were previously working with the software. Like the fields of Web development, Mobile applications, or even data analytics.

Basic skills for IoT engineer:

Ion: A bit of knowledge of either Python or JavaScript and some understanding of communication protocols such as MQTT and HTTP is enough to start developing basic IoT solutions. Based on the same arguments, for business owners, the advantages of IoT over PLC network solutions are the small entry cost, the faster idea to market, lower risk of vendor locking, and access to a large pool of developers who can help develop solutions.

Mateusz: So we could say that the background of the automation will be a bit changed. The best idea for automation engineers is to get familiar with python and communication protocols. What do You think about the security of that solution? How well the system is design and secures against cyber threats?

Cybersecurity in IoT

Ion: The main advantage of IoT solutions is also one of the biggest threats. The open ecosystem for development means that exploits discovered in one set of devices can be used for hacking products of multiple other manufacturers. Even if the IoT application running on the embedded device was developed with the strictest security guidelines, an exploit could be discovered within the open-source operating system, networking library, or even the programming language itself. On the other hand, in a system where all the IoT devices can be managed remotely. It is much easier to set up automatic security updates and react to cyber threats much faster. This is, however, something that must be explicitly develop and set up by the development team.

Mateusz: I have the feeling that cybersecurity is the no.1 issue overall in engineering industries. Doesn’t matter if we are talking about IT or the OT world. In which area(s) do we need development to implement Industrial IoT in more places?

IoT in the maritime industry

Development of IoT in the maritime industry

Security awareness is probably one of the areas which require the most development. Due to low computational power and simplistic architectures, a decade ago, IoT devices would not always have the possibility of making use of the latest encryption algorithms or other security features. Luckily, nowadays this is becoming less of an issue, as IoT devices have advanced considerably.

However, this doesn’t mean that IoT devices have become inherently more secure. It is up to the developer and system architect to enforce the usage of security measures throughout the product lifecycle. While it is easy to create an end-to-end connection between an IoT device. For example, a dashboard web application, ensuring that this connection is secure and exclusive to the right parties. It requires good knowledge of encryption algorithms, authorization methods, and computer networking.

Conclusion about IoT in the maritime industry

IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT) are still relatively new technologies on the market. However, they are bringing a lot of benefits and fresh air into the whole automation industry. In my opinion, there is a big gap between the classic SCADA automation and IoT, and IoT solutions will take over the market. Maybe this will not happen in the next 10 years, however, the direction of development is clear. IoT is much more flexible and doesn’t mean that it is less secure than standard automation solutions. Especially with the cloud services, where the vessel itself can be a local cloud, that solution can be really beneficial.


  • Mateusz Białas

    Researcher of Autonomous and Remotely Controlled ships. Since 2014 in Maritime Industry. Experience gained at Ro-Ro, Ferry, Container, and Heavy Lifts, design of Navy Ships.

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