LoRa sensors and gateways to run aboard ocean freighters

Ocean freighters will use LoRa low-power wireless sensors and gateways to monitor ship systems. (Semtech)

Maritime shipping giant Wilhelmsen will implement a potentially massive Internet of Things platform aboard ocean-going freighters around the globe that relies on LoRa low-power wireless connectivity.

LoRa sensors and gateways powered by Semtech chips will be used to monitor the condition of the vessels and track the ship’s assets. The Things Industries is also a partner in the venture.

“The new system is expected to benefit our customers immediately and is a step toward autonomous vessels,” said Jon Helge Ulstein, senior project manager at Wilhelmsen in a statement. The Norwegian company, founded in 1861, services half of the global merchant fleet with products, services and technical management from 2,200 locations.

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Semtech chips are already used in many land-based IoT networks for various industries. Equipment running the LoraWAN specification is already deployed in 100 countries, but now will be deployed for the first time aboard ships serviced by Wilhelmsen.

The three companies successfully completed a proof of concept of the LoRa devices and using a TTI mesh network aboard a freighter ship last summer off the coast of Norway. LoRa was the right choice of wireless technology, since its range is long enough to service an entire ship but not so long-range that it uses too much power that can quickly exhaust batteries in sensors, said Marc Pegulu, vice president of Semtech’s Sensing Products Group. 

In a typical ocean-going freighter, he estimated it will take 2,000 or more sensors to collect data connected to three gateways. The data will be collected and sent by satellite to a data center in Norway for monitoring.   

LoRa (short for Long Range) is a spectrum modulation technology that can connect devices up to 30 miles apart and requires little energy to prolong battery life up to 10 years. The LoRaWAN specification works in the unlicensed band and complements Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular. Pegulu said for ocean going freighters, Semtech chips operate over three bands to effectively connect around the globe: 915 Mhz in the Americas, 868 Mhz in Europe and 470 Mhz in China.

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