BCS Awards: RNLI nets win on the move

RNLI and Active Web Solutions scoop BCS Mobile Award for Sea Safety system

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RNLI and Active Web Solutions scoop BCS Mobile Award for Sea Safety system

The 2006 winner of the Mobile Computing Award, sponsored by Rainier PR, is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Active Web Solutions for their collaborative project, the RNLI Sea Safety tracking system.

With about 30 fishermen a year losing their lives in UK and Irish waters, the fishing industry continues to be one of the most hazardous of occupations.

The RNLI, a charity providing 24-hour lifesaving services in those waters, wanted to improve safety on small fishing vessels by introducing a new automatic system that would immediately alert the search and rescue authorities whenever a vessel found itself in serious difficulties.

Often, small crafts are not registered as missing until family or friends report that a boat has failed to return to shore. This could be many hours after an incident, by which time the crew could be lost.

The RNLI wanted a system that would give its search and rescue operations an accurate location of vessels at sea and automatically alert them if a crew member fell overboard.

Having previously worked with Active Web Solutions, the RNLI decided to work together again to develop a system from scratch.

The first system of its kind to combine a man-overboard function, vessel-overdue monitoring and two-way communications with the search and rescue services, Sea Safety provides a wireless personal safety device for crew members.

Using a low-cost satellite communications system, search and rescue services are then alerted quickly - typically within one minute - when a crew member goes overboard.

The system also regularly reports a vessel's position, course and speed. Two-way communications allow the search and rescue services to communicate with the vessel in distress to let them know that help is on the way.

The system significantly reduces the time taken to locate a vessel in trouble at sea from several days to a few minutes. Michael Vlasto, RNLI operations director, says, "It will actively assist in preventing needless loss of life at sea and help to take the search out of search and rescue."

This has undoubtedly been the RNLI's year in the BCS Awards. As well as the Mobile Computing Award, the project has won the coveted BT Innovation Flagship Award for Technology plus the Technology Award for Systems, sponsored by IBM.

BCS president Nigel Shadbolt says, "I think we are all in awe of the inspirational work of the RNLI. That its world-class collaboration with Active Web Solutions has resulted in three BCS awards is extraordinary, but then the RNLI is an extraordinary organisation."

The category attracted a wide range of projects and three other organisations gained medallist status, including the Beef and Sheep Company and Graham Technology, which together found a highly innovative solution to the paperwork burden of recording information around lambing by creating a PDA-based system. It allows farmers to immediately record ID, gender, date of birth, sire, natural birth and so on, and has successfully removed the need for paper.

London Waste won a medal for a product that became one of the first commercial uses of Google Earth. The waste management company wanted a vehicle tracking system that included phone service, online access to location data, remote immobilisation for stolen vehicles and data transfer to third-party products. The medal-winning system meets all the company's objectives by using a ruggedised in-vehicle unit with SMS messaging.

In common with most budget-conscious organisations, the Royal Hospitals Trust in Belfast is constantly looking for new ways of doing more with less.

As its wireless network became increasingly difficult to manage, it resolved to develop a stable, reliable and secure materials management system - limited shelf life makes good stock management an imperative if costs are to be contained.

The first healthcare trust to deploy such a large scale wireless network, the Royal Hospitals Trust has rolled out a campus-wide secure network that enables its staff to work anywhere at any time and improve the services provided to millions of patients.

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