Having read excellent answers about using external USB devices on SmartPhones (HTC Desire in my case), I would like to complicate the issue still further: I'd like to use a Windows emulator on the Android OS in order to run an external AIS dongle (and possibly an external GPS).

The reason for this is that suppliers of these maritime safety devices seem to make them only with drivers for Windows (occasionally for Apple OSs too), but not for Android/Linux.

The point of what I'm trying to do is to avoid using a laptop at sea A)as they are vulnerable and have to be kept inside, B) go wrong at sea anyway C)have long startup times D) most important of all, they use a lot of battery power so can't be left on permanently.

What 'every' boat owner wants is a portable device that can run C-MAPS (sea charts) on a program called OPEN CPN (freeware) without entering into the equipment race by various 'big screen' GPS manufacturers who sell their various charts in various formats at exhorbitant prices.

So I know I speak for at least tens of thousands of people who would love to find a solution to this issue.

So does anyone know if/how to install drivers on, say, an HTC Desire to make it work with an external AIS dongle? (The data stream should be relatively simple if I understand rightly. Would I need Android drivers for the external USB or Windows drivers for it (if a Windows emulator is to be installed), or both? or is there a smart person who can make a driver for such external devices on a smartphone with Android and make himself 'millions' and avoid Windows altogether, (using perhaps Ubuntu or a stripped down Linux version (- OpenCPN works with Linux)). (Saying that, there will always be companies who make products with drivers for Windows only, so maybe via windows isn't the worst way?).

Boats work on 12v so the optimal solution would be to find a phone/tablet as the 'mother part' in such a system that works on 12v - or - if a voltage converter is to be used, the more efficient it is, the better.

The reason for wanting the device on all the time is for safety at sea - watching for an AIS signal 24 hours a day = a vessel approaching, or so that the 'anchor watch' can be used (= if the vessel moves more than a few metres whilst one is asleep, or the water depth changes, an alarm sounds).

Having researched the issue, it seems no in the whole world has made a system that runs Open CPN that is not laptop based. I haven't even found a tablet based version capable of running the external AIS receiver/GPS as well, which I find almost shocking. But using a phone would mean far less power usage and a cheaper platform, available to all. The ability to then connect an external screen (by the helmsman, for out in the weather, daytime, let's say) would be the creme de la creme.

Got all that? Good! ;)

  • 1
    What's your specific question?
    – Dan Hulme
    Sep 18 '13 at 17:32
  • Your question is very specific and you seemingly fall for the X-Y Problem. Just shorten and rephrase and tell your specific problem concise and what you do want to solve instead of how to use this windows driver on android etc.
    – ce4
    Sep 18 '13 at 18:56

First, there's really no way to emulate modern Windows PC's on Android, and there is a long list of reasons for that. So to be honest, you're simply not going to be able to run Windows software on an Android phone.

That said, OpenCPN can actually be run on android. And googling shows that there are some "easier" guides for making it happen. Many Android devices already have a built-in GPS and communications hardware, which (I assume) would be sufficient for your needs as long as you're in coastal or inland waters (Where you have a data connection). I wouldn't be surprised if some AIS Dongles worked with Android without need for drivers, giving you AIS access virtually anywhere at sea(But I could be very wrong).

As for AIS as a separate feature, there are actually quite a few AIS applications available for Android with varying feature sets. I don't think I have enough information to determine if they have the features you need, but feel free to look at them. Here are some links, if you haven't already found them yourself:

Boat Beacon, MarineTraffic Ship Positions, and mAIS - Ship Position Reporting

Now, on to the down-and-dirty: If you want a seamless, power-efficient setup "That Just Works™", then Android most likely isn't going to be the answer. I would suggest looking at low-power Atom-powered Windows tablets. You can keep Windows or, alternatively, install Linux on them. They draw considerably less power than an average laptop and are quite capable.

TL;DR... OpenCPN works on Android. And you can get how-to guides on making it happen (needs root). There are AIS Applications for Android (Links above). Finally, your best bet is probably a cheap Windows tablet, not Android.

I suggest this tablet, or anything similar.

  • Well I'm stunned that OpenCPN don't show on their download page that it runs on Android. I need AIS and GPS for use far away from shore, not reception based. But also am very sceptical of service providers where many times phones just don't work 'over the border' in Europe even when they should. What I am not sure of would be how to connect the phone to two USB devices, but assume that a suitable connector cable that allows a phone to work as a host to a USB device would run two devices with a simple splitter?
    – Progenator
    Sep 18 '13 at 18:46
  • Here is a link to a Windows emulator for Android: techrepublic.com/blog/tablets-in-the-enterprise/… ...this is what I meant by running Windows
    – Progenator
    Sep 18 '13 at 18:46
  • 1
    what I have found in the past half hour is a stripped down, enhanced and specialised Linux version especially for boat owners which proclaims even to run AIS using an old VHF set. It also allows a hard drive switch off to save power and will run from a USB stick to avoid the problems of rough seas jerking the computer causing data failures: navigatrix.net
    – Progenator
    Sep 18 '13 at 18:50
  • I have heard of people installing Ubuntu on phones so presumably one can install Navigatrix!? Thanks for the links and help.. oops not allowed to say that here ;) I'm going to ask the Navigatrix people if they know of people installing their OS on SmartPhones and will get back on that.
    – Progenator
    Sep 18 '13 at 18:53
  • Oh, that's a really cool bit of info about a Linux specialized for boat owners. And yes, using Ubuntu on phones is done in a very similar way as the suggested method for using OpenCPN on Android. Navigatrix should be a similar (but probably more difficult) process.
    – dotVezz
    Sep 19 '13 at 12:56

OpenCPN states future Android suppport, possible as soon as they've migrated their graphics engine to OpenGL.

It's probably the easiest path to still run OpenCPN on a Windows based laptop and just use a remote viewer app like

to your Android tablet/phone/etc. until a native Android way is available.

  • Nice idea, but these work via servers which I/most yachtsmen won't have aboard a small boat. Even if we could afford them money/spacewise, they're an 'extra gadget to go wrong'.
    – Progenator
    Sep 18 '13 at 21:20
  • You don't need a "dedicated" server, your regular notebook, locked up in the hull, will do just fine. The "additional electronic gear that might break" holds true of course.
    – ce4
    Sep 19 '13 at 10:12

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