I’m back home, happily, and cogitating on a perennial issue: What’s a sensible compromise in terms of a compact and rugged, yet able and reasonably-priced, boat PC? A good place to start the conversation is a roundup of “marinized computers” written by Tom Tripp for MadMariner last summer (and recently expanded upon at Tripp’s blog). Just about all the marine PC specialists I know of are mentioned and linked to, but, as Tripp notes, the meaning of “marinization” is vague. Which is one reason I wonder if a good “carputer”—like the VoomPC2 seen above—might do.
It’s a bit telling that just before Cobra’s MR F300 Bluetooth cell mic won a DAME Design Award, I’d read some critical, if uninformed, posts about it on The Hull Truth. I think Europeans are way ahead of us when it comes to cellular. And I think the Cobra BT mic, which I’ve been testing for a while, is worthy of recognition. The photo above suggests how smartly counter-intuitive it is; while it’s wireless to your phone, it’s very much wired to your boat, with a hunky curly cable, a bulkhead plug, and break-out wires (out of shot) that connect to 12v power, USB for updates, and line-out for amplifying calls. No batteries to worry about, and your cell can be tucked away and charging somewhere within Class 2 Bluetooth range (about 30’). A closer look at the handset, bigger here, shows a plethora of command buttons never seen on a Bluetooth headset and a screen whose fonts are small but readable.
I’m pleased to pass along METS notes from Andy Murray, Service Manager at Globe Marine, and Kees Verruijt, a software developer/entrepreneur and marine electronics enthusiast. A big thanks to both for some interesting impressions and news nuggets. Of course all biases expressed, or mistakes made, are their own! First up, Andy:
Congratulations to Navionics for winning the DAME Design Award (marine-related software category) with Navionics Mobile. And it turns out there’s going to be more to this product than I first understood. In addition to large portfolios of vector charts to run in iNavX, Navionics will also offer a free viewer and inexpensive small area charts. In fact there’s already a preview of Navionics Viewer in the Apple Apps Store. It includes impressively detailed sample cartography of the area around Genoa, Italy, which is how I took the screen shot above, full size here (but it still takes Google Maps to see the hotel pool I once swam in ;-). Zooming and panning are reasonably quick on my iPod Touch, and I look forward to seeing the finished app. There’s no end to the iPhone effect.
Wow, Panbo works! While it’s pure coincidence that two really interesting—though quite different—solid state marine radars were announced yesterday, I got an early head’s up on both and, better yet, Panbot “DavidV”—who turns out to be a principal developer of the Honeywell prototype ss radar seen above—has already helped us understand how it compares to Navico Broadband (see comments). Unfortunately Honeywell’s “Programmable, Pulse Compression, X-Band Radar,” which David just presented at the eNavigation Conference, is not yet even scheduled for production, but, wow, I think you’ll agree that’s likely, if they can get the costs reasonable. The collage above, and bigger here, compares a Furuno 2117 commercial radar working at its .75 nm range (though showing more) with the 40 watt solid state set at 5 nm range, but zoomed in. The boat moved a bit between screen shots but the difference in range resolution seems obvious and amazing.
One reason I wish I were at METS today is that Navico not only debuted its Broadband Radar, but may be running it in their booth. That’s possible because this 18” solid state radar transmits at “1/2000th the power of typical pulse radars.” And it might even generate meaningful images inside that huge show hall as the technology is supposed to be amazingly good at resolving short-range targets (as suggested above). The various Lowrance, Northstar, and Simrad MFDs that are going to be updated to support this scanner will even have a 1/32 nm range. So…high target resolution, very low power draw, almost no dangerous radiation, and no tuning or warm up time needed…is this an interesting development, or what?
When Furuno NavNet 3D was first teased, I didn’t get the “native 3D” part. How could a “true 3D environment” be based on decidedly 2D raster and ENC charts? But I get it now. Whatever you see in NN3D’s conventional top-down 2D view—including routes, AIS targets, radar overlay, etc.—you can also see in 3D. It’s the same data, just tilted and shaded, and easy to fly around in. Which feels different—more “native”, more “true”—than any other 3D navigation I’ve tried before, and much more useful. So I think it’s great that Navionics has apparently developed a way to bring this sort of continuous-zooming, full-detail 3D to a variety of platforms. It’s called Navionics TurboView and I saw the preview above, and bigger here, at FLIBS.
Comments about the Fusion stereo testing reminded me of Poly-Planar’s somewhat similar MRD-70 audio system. With the addition of RD-44 remote head units (see below), plus amps and speakers, it becomes a multi-zone and multi-source system. That is, different zones can use different sources, which the multi-zone Fusion system can not do. Plus it has intercom functions and wireless remotes, and Poly-Planar recently added an improved iPod interface. But no marine, or even automobile, system I can find has caught up to what some iPods can do…
I’ve had fun down in the shop/lab the past couple of days doing a dummy install of a fairly sophisticated Fusion Marine Stereo system, and in the process learned a lot about all the ways you can rig this gear. Impressive! The shot above, bigger here, suggest one possible layout: the MS-IP500 head unit, dual 7” two-way speakers, and the 10” sub-woofer on the big panel in back could put a lot of audio into a sizeable main salon, while the little panel with wired remote and 4” two-ways might be fine for a cozy stateroom. But to really get a feel for the variables, check out the back side of these panels, shown below. However, please don’t proceed if you’re offended by funky wiring (though good enough for testing). And to get totally in the mood you might fire up the same mellow John Lee Hooker mix that was playing in this scene (though wrongly titled in my MP3 collection, and thus on the iPod Touch that’s inside the head unit).
Finessing the MerCruiser Axius joystick is Amanda Marsten, who probably never foresaw this as part of her gig at the PR firm Rushton Gregory. But she brought the perfect blend of boating inexperience and a light touch to the job, and in truth handled the Sea Ray more deftly than some of us old coots who were aboard for the FLIBS demo. Close quarters maneuvering with Axius is truly intuitive, even when you face aft, and switching from regular controls to joystick is as simple as putting the shifts in neutral and grabbing the stick (or vice versa). But this, mind you, was not just the Axius control system Mercury introduced last February, but rather the new Premier version (which so far is pretty invisible online)…