Vesper Marine Virtual AIS Beacon, and more
That's New Zealand's fascinating Fiordland coast and while I'm not positive the photo was taken from a helicopter, I do know that the solar-powered navigation light in the foreground is serviced by one. Which is how the technicians who recently added an AIS transponder to the site got there too. But you won't see the nav light on an AIS plotting screen because the transponder is programmed to mark a dangerous submerged rock at the mouth of Doubtful Sound 3.4 miles in the distance. Now the visiting cruise ships report that they can now plot Tarapunga Rock from 10 miles offshore or from two miles inside the Sound. The concept is called a Virtual Aid to Navigation, or VAtoN, and while it's the first I know detail of, I'm doubtful that it will be the last...
The authorities used to mark that rock with a bouy but big seas regularly destroyed it so now they're trying Vesper Marine's new Virtual AIS Beacon. On that Vesper page you'll find links to more interesting detail on the Tarapunga Rock beacon, but note also how the hardware can create up to 50 virtual aids to navigation. So at least within VHF transmit distance, a VAtoN administrator with a single Vesper Beacon system can create a virtual channel or cordon off some sort of temporary event.
Note too that marinas are listed as possible users of this technology. In fact, Vesper founder Jeff Robbins told me that they have set up a test marina with an AIS slip guidance system. When a boat calls in for a reservation from outside the harbor, the dock manager can easily light up their particular slip as an AIS target. Which would beat the heck out of all the chatter I often hear as dock masters try to help someone find a particular spot in a complicated harbor. And if the arriving vessel is also transmitting its AIS ID, the Vesper system can even turn off the virtual slip target when the yacht arrives!
Vesper Marine is on quite a roll. The Virtual Beacon is a finalist for an NZ Hi Tech Award after recently receiving Professional Mariner's Samuel Plimsol Award. And in Miami, Vesper won a Safety category Innovation Award for its WatchMate Vision touchscreen Class B AIS transponder. You may recall a Panbo preview of the Vision last November, but sorry to say that it's not yet shipping or on Vesper's site. I've had a hands-on demo, though, and was very impressed. Part of what I saw is in the Boating video seen below, but there's more to Vision than just great AIS plotting. Details soon hopefully.