Travel through Warrington and the first thing you’ll soon learn is the congestion that is created when the swing bridges are closed. With the Manchester ship canal cutting through the south of Warrington, it is common for VIX and the local community to get disrupted as a result of a container ship plodding between Liverpool and Manchester. After a few close calls with missing trains, and stories of parents being late to pick up their children from school, VIX took on the challenge to provide a solution. See the website at https://oship.vix.digital
The first task was to identify when the ships were coming. The team thought about how the controllers of the bridges knew when ships were approaching, coming up with ideas from sonar drones to online ship tracking APIs. The main problem is that the services available to track ships, are based on the premise that these ships are usually in the sea. It was a rare requirement to track container ships in-land, especially in the middle of Warrington, at least until now. VIX quickly found that like aircraft, boats transmit anti-collision signals (AIS) to ensure other boats can adjust accordingly. Great. In a short sprint of delivery VIX had a Raspberry Pi hooked up to a RTL SDR dongle which could detect boats in the immediate vicinity. This detection range proved not to be enough to give meaningful warnings, there’s no value in telling people that they are already stuck in traffic.
The next natural step was to buy an AIS receiving antenna and mount it to the roof of a team member’s house. Tony drew the short straw and soon enough the range was boosted substantially. The device was now capable of detecting boat traffic well before it caused a disruption to the bridges. VIX developed a website for status checking along with an IOS application which allowed users to receive push notifications prior to the bridge closing, and during the period after where congestion was still at a high. Making the service free meant that the local community could benefit and resulted in Warrington council sponsoring the application.