Daniel Harper Q&A
Founder & CEO of Siren Marine talks with us about how marine products are beginning to take advantage of onboard data.
Last year we had the chance to meet Daniel Harper to discuss Siren Marine’s boat monitoring system. As mobile data plans have become cheaper, and access to the internet becomes ubiquitous, companies have gone all-in to develop comprehensive but simple-to-use monitoring systems. These systems gather and interpret the data spat out by the various instruments on your boat, and the term ascribed to such data has been dubbed the “Internet of Things,” or IoT for short. Here is a bit of our conversation with Daniel about how he came to monitoring, what makes Siren Marine unique, and what he thinks is the future of IoT in the marine world.
How do you identify the Internet of Things? How does the Internet of Things apply to the marine world?
Recall one of the early nicknames of the internet: “the information superhighway.” The Internet of Things is very much just that: it is information from our things or our stuff; like our cars and devices, that comes to us via the internet. At Siren Marine, we often describe ourselves as “bringing the Internet of Things to boating.” And we think that the marine application is one of the very best applications for IoT that exist. Why? Because folks love their boats. We generally don’t get as much time to use them as we would like. They are more often left untended than not, they are expensive and exposed to the marine environment. There are many key things we would like to know about our boats when we are not
aboard, like battery state, leaks, and if the anchor is holding. The Internet of Things can bring all of this information to us via our mobile phone or computer. Voila.
What are the unique ways you have found to use the data from Internet of Things on boats that one might not immediately think of?
Great question. The primary ones are somewhat obvious: bilge, battery, position, and security. But what about shore power? Wouldn’t it be nice to know if a transient came in and plugged their shore power cord into your power post? There goes your refrigeration and battery charger. Engine hours: With the Siren Marine device, we can automatically keep track of the hours the engine runs, and remind you when it is time to change the oil and filters. Have kids who love boating? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know exactly where they are when they are out skiing or are a little late getting back in from a fishing trip. And how about this: knowing that the service guy came to work on your boat, and exactly what time he arrived and left (think billable hours) from your entry motion sensor activity. Or that the yard has your boat in the travel lift and is launching right on time, as you watch the tracking on your smartphone. Paying for indoor heated winter storage? Do you know if the heat ever goes off or the temperature is way below what it is supposed to be? You could. We have heard these very reports from many of our customers, and they love being this connected to their boat, even if they are on the other side of the country or an ocean away. Connected boating is quite simply a better boating experience.
Siren Marine vessel monitoring systems seem to differ from other systems on the market. What are some unique ways you have incorporated the Internet of Things into your systems?
We took the approach from the boater’s point of view, rather than from a technology point of view. Siren Marine is a company “by boaters, for boaters” and by this we are referring to the fact that all of our employees to date are avid boat owners and operators. I founded the company after working in the marine industry for over a decade as a professional captain, and discovered that this problem, the problem of little problems becoming big problems when the boat is untended (most of the time), or just major inconveniences (think dead battery…) could be mitigated by technology. At the time, IoT was not a term and smart phones didn’t exist. But cellphones did, and I set out to solve this problem by using cellular technology—sent via text messages—to mitigate the untended boat problem, and connect boaters to their boats, no matter the distance via cellular
and the Internet. The Internet of Boats was born.
Since I developed the technology starting with the problem, and not the technology looking for a problem to solve, Siren Marine’s solution is a direct answer to the things boaters worry about, and want to be able to do and monitor. We can do things like turn on the air conditioning before you get to the boat on a hot summer’s day so the boat is cool when you arrive. We can turn on the spreader lights on a dark night when the launch driver is having a hard time finding the boat in a crowded anchorage. With our system you can turn off the battery switch from home that you forgot when you left the boat. Our system is truly about the connected boat. We have connected boat owners to the things and information that they want, and not given them a piece of technology that does things and provides information that is not useful. A lot of IoT companies do just that. They build technology and then try to create functions and uses to match the product, not the problem. We think that’s backwards.
A great example of this is weather. Many boat-monitoring companies claim to have weather on their app. All that means is you get generic weather reports from the Internet based on the area in which the boat is located. There is no connection to an actual sensor or measurement of the weather at the boat through a device. We all have great weather apps on our phones that do an incredible job reporting weather conditions. We don’t need that clouding the useful information that is relevant to our boat and boat monitor.
How do you see the Internet of Things growing in the future?
We predict that there will be 650,000 connected boats by 2021. That is a huge number by marine industry standards. And what I see it doing for the average boater is aligned with some or our core goals at Siren Marine. Our new device will connect with a remote battery on/off switch, “out of the box, plug and play,” giving boaters the ability to “turn on the boat” as they walk down the dock, or from home when they forget to turn the batteries off. Ultimately, I see the Internet of Things infiltrating the entire boat, and rather quickly in the new-boat segment. With digital switching, NMEA 2000 and Signal K, the ability to connect with and control or monitor virtually every piece of electrical or electronic equipment, appliance, or gear on the boat is possible. Our new Siren Marine device, because of our proprietary wired or wireless options, can integrate with almost any system on any boat, regardless of age, and turn it into a fully connected boat. As we say here at Siren, think LoJack + OnStar + Nest for boats, and you have IoT for boats or what we have coined, The Connected Boat.