Panbo

Trends in marine electronics, your thoughts please!

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Oct 21, 2009
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I'm working on a January Yachting feature about trends in marine electronics, and I'd appreciate your feedback.  One thing I'm fairly sure of is that multifunction displays have come a long way in recent years, and justifiably dominate the mid size boat market.  I took a solo overnight expedition last week, and had to note again that each of the four MFD/radar systems currently installed on Gizmo is pretty darn powerful.  Especially if you imagine yourself five to ten years back in marine electronics.  Note how the Garmin 24HD radome is imaging and overlaying that low ledge seen off to starboard, without any tuning, and also the NMEA 2000 data flowing onto the 5212 screen (and every other display aboard).  Note, too, the iPhone on the dash -- right then running SailTrac, a trip tracking and blogging program I'll write about soon -- and the Standard Horizon HX850S, which also has a GPS and is ready to call in the cavalry via DSC should I screw up.  There are many trends to consider...

And for many trends, there's also a counter trend, or even a possible major disruption just over the horizon.  Which is why my list to date may be half baked:

* MFDs are not only getting much better, but are coming out as the special purpose computers they actually are.  Thus we have support for DVI remote monitors and USB mice/keyboards.  Will they get Internet connectivity soon?

* Compared to the rapid evolution of MFDs, PC navigation has been on the wane.  But that could turn around.  Positive signs: Windows7, inexpensive but powerful hardware, new Nobeltec management, new MaxSea, and new Coastal Explorer.  PCs already have the connectivity many boaters want, but it could be used better. Less expensive PC radar and marine monitors (like the Planar LX below), and NMEA 2000 integration, would really help this segment.

* Meanwhile, connected pocket computers, namely the iPhone, have really caught on with boaters.  I've rarely seen marine products as quickly beloved as apps like Navionics Mobile, iNavX, and Ship Finder.  Won't this grow exponentially, and couldn't a slick, easy tablet be disruptive?

* As much as the term rankles me, "social networking" is coming to boats.  Sharing adventures with friends and family, sharing data and opinions with fellow boaters...most of us want it, and we're looking for tools to make it easy. But WiFi is difficult and unreliable, cellular is spotty, and sat coms damn expensive.  Solution unclear!

* Naysayers aside, AIS is also being embraced by recreational boaters, and transponders will likely become the norm on most all vessels over 30 feet. Better ways to display targets and bigger screens will take care of the "clutter problem" before it's a real problem.

* Partially because of AIS, boaters may finally start using DSC VHF.  Other enablers: NMEA 2000 making VHF integration with GPS, AIS, and MFDs easier; improved DSC interfaces using that integration; and the completion of Rescue 21.

* Sensor technology -- from radar to boat speed -- is improving rapidly thanks to rapidly improving micro processors and design tools.  New technologies like solid state radar and ultrasonic wind, water speed, and tank sensors may disrupt familiar technologies.

* For similar reasons, like rapidly improving robotics, manufacturing is also improving and thus complex marine electronics are generally more reliable. Newly affordable tech like LED display backlighting are also increasing reliability (and improving visibility).

* What's not improving in reliability is the software inside marine electronics.  This is a small industry with an amazingly fragmented and complex consumer base.  Easily distributed software updates are great in some ways, but early adopters of marine electronics should expect to be beta testers.

* Stylish software and hardware design are becoming more important in marine electronics, and why not?  And, incidentally, is the advance in MFDs just the precursor to glass bridges, i.e. a networked system of screens, keypads, black boxes, and sensors that do everything?

* A trend in onboard entertainment systems is a fierce competition to enable the endless HD channel choices available on land, but that whole model may be disrupted by streaming video, vidcasts, etc.  What will the future mid size boat entertainment system look like?  

* The frontier for marine electronics is the monitoring and control of non navigation systems like engines, electrical power, heating and cooling, security and safety systems, etc.  A lot of boaters want to get "greener" too, which is related.  NMEA 2000 could play a big part in this, but it would sure help if the N2K standards process picked up the pace.

What have I missed?  Where am I wrong?  Let's discuss...

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Comments

Well Ben,

I use a PC (used a laptop for years, but have now gone for a Navroc ruggedized unit made in Rockland!) with a 22" LCD (flat) monitor (not expensive at all, and very bright), and I don't see the attraction of MFDs at many times the cost. I use Fugawi, but there are several other programs - that seems pretty much a toss-up.

I use the free NOAA charts (also paper, which I can print on a big pplotter) and Fugawi comes with a Navionics chip reader for non-NOAA waters. Fugawi shows my position, track, etc, but also displays AIS tagets, and the PC also gives me tide information (W-XTide32) and wind from my Airmar PB-100.

Connectivity IS a ptoblem. SSB works most of the time, and with a Pactor modem email is functional if slow (with an aluminum hull we have a good ground-plane and so put out a great signal). It would be really nice to see sat comms come down in price for those of us who spend most of our time out of range of cell towers.

Posted by: Michael Porter at October 21, 2009 8:10 AM | Reply

Just a comment, I noticed the iPhone as you mentioned, and was very surprised to see it so close to the compass! I know that Blackberries (batteries & components) can offset a compass by close to 10 degrees. Perhaps another sign of the times ... With too high reliance on technology, the ship's compass will soon be used as little as paper charts.

P.S.: Oh, and the VHF is next to the compass as well (more batteries).

Posted by: Diane Gosselin at October 21, 2009 8:51 AM | Reply

I'll echo your comment about manufactures rushing premature products to market, and the resulting danger in navigation or helm control (autopilot) situations. To my knowledge, no one has been hurt/vessel damaged by products that don't have all the bugs worked out, but as systems get more complicated with more hardware, software gets more complicated with more lines of code, and all the while users become more dependent on their electronics rather than old fashioned seamanship, we might soon have a real problem on the high seas.

Part of this problem is the consumer, who in the "age of instant gratification" wants new, faster, better technology rapidly, and is willing to pay. But manufacturers need to be responsible, or standards organizations such as ABYC or NMEA need to make sure that we're not going to put users at risk by relying on immature products.

On the flip-side is that all of this technology is making "seamanship" a lot easier for newbies on the water, which increases accessibility to the sport. That's a good thing.

Posted by: AaronH at October 21, 2009 9:03 AM | Reply

A few years ago I had a marine electronics expert come out to the boat as a paid consultant to figure out what was wrong with my autopilot. On the way out in the dinghy he told me he really shouldn't waste his time with me because, "all you sailors are cheap compared to power boaters" he went on to say, "The power boat crowd changes electronics every five years". Well, I almost turned around to drop him off at the dock, but thought for a minute and realized he had a point. Although I'm one of many cheap sailors I must say the marine electronics industry has, in some cases like Furuno, priced the common sailor out of their product. Along with price there is the consideration of the cost of electrical current to run all this stuff. When you feel the heat given off by some MFD's you have to realize there is a great deal of battery capacity burning up in that machine. Sailors just can't accommodate huge current draw over long periods.

Of all the recent innovations, NMEA 2000 and AIS are the most significant for cheap sailors. Personally, I will not buy another device unless it has N2K capability. AIS, class B is so important it rivals radar on my boat. I'm a Coastal Explorer user and although MFD's are hot and provide an outstanding visual display I have not met one yet that can layout a route as efficiently or quickly as my navigation software. Coastal Explorer offers versatility far beyond any MFD so for active cruisers doing some serious coastal sailing, laptop navigation still wins over the fancy and expensive chartplotters.

Although I appreciate all the innovation I just can't afford to flip electronics every five years so when I decide on what to buy I seriously think about a company's technical support. How often is the software upgraded and do they have quality support on the phone or via email. These are important questions that can eliminate a great product from consideration over one with an outstanding tech support team.

Posted by: Richard C at October 21, 2009 9:15 AM | Reply

I think one of the biggest trends and potentially largest game changer coming is integration of the helm with the internet.

Think about life outside the boat environment for a moment. What has changed our daily interactions, information gathering, and purchasing more than the internet? And yet underway, precious few helms are "connected". But the ones that are will never go back to the unconnected days - it's sort of like GPS. Once you taste it, you can't imagine life without it.

We're starting to see the changes happening among boaters in subtle ways. Few people on the dock say they have "3 bars" any longer to describe their connection. Now they say they have a 3G connection...or even EV-DO - normal everyday people using jargon. It's a beautiful thing! When your helm expands to include connectivity, the universe expands to include much more information and better decision making.

The iPhone and other mobile devices getting connected to the internet is just the beginning. It shows the coming trend so clearly.

The wonderful thing about marine electronics for the technologist is that it is 5-10 years behind consumer electronics. I'm not saying that the technology is behind; it's the trends that are behind. Want to know what's coming next? Follow what's happening to your electronics outside the boating world. Is there anything bigger there than connectivity?

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at October 21, 2009 9:17 AM | Reply

You've hit all the key issues but I'd emphasize simplification. Manufacturers should focus software engineering on simplifying the user experience. This is the reason the iphone is so popular - it's easy to use and it automatically integrates multiple applications. Eventually, the hardware will become commoditized and the products will be differentiated by their software. For now, I'd like to see more features including *new* ones AIS, DSC, VHF, overlay, autopilot, etc. readily brought together into MFDs. Move toward the simplicity of auto GPS and the integration of aviation-like "glass cockpits".

Posted by: Peter T at October 21, 2009 9:33 AM | Reply

- Use of wireless protocols in various ways.
* Used instead of ethernet to connect electronics that need more bandwidth than NMEA-2000 offers.
* Use in low bandwidth situations as well
* Will include security protocols to prevent boats from interfering with each other, unsure if adoption of PC security protocols or if there will be a play for a NMEA-unwired protocol that creates a wider standard for marine electronics
* enable iPhone applications to receive data from the boat. I expect that Android applications might have an early lead due to multitasking capability exposed to users where iPhone does not.

- 3 wire boats (power & nmea-2000 signaling) replaces DC Power panels on new boats.

- Marine electronics standard to signal marine electronics to turn on/off remotely thru NMEA-2000 and other protocols (which will take 10 years to adopt ?), if not just a single vendor adoption, will enable a virtual 3 wire boat emulation using just nmea-2000, a MFD, and a very limited DC-breaker system or small dc-panel

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at October 21, 2009 9:51 AM | Reply

I want to underline Richard's concern over the growing demand on power from all the new gadgets. Sailboats have not yet seen a corresponding improvement in power storage or generation. LED lighting has been the only significant forward step from a power perspective. Broadband RADAR might help but I don't run the RADAR 24/7 and I'm not sure if the trade-offs (like switching MFD vendor) are worth it for whatever power I'll save. I'd love to get one of the new E-series touch screens but I have not seen a power number and fear it will be impossible to support.

With respect to computing hardware, I prefer a PC but find it difficult to use in the cockpit for coastal sailing. Thus I sail with both a laptop and an MFD. The PC has better "off-shore" software. It also has a better collection of maps and charts. The charts for a MFD cost big bucks every year and are a year out-of-date when you use them. I started boating back when we religiously read Notice to Mariners and manually updated our paper charts. You can still do that with a PC. The PC option is not going to die out. At worst we will lose direct competitors to MFDs like Coastal Explorer but keep the general-purpose guys like Fugawi and keep the various, specialized offerings (weather routing, etc.).

Posted by: Craig at October 21, 2009 10:23 AM | Reply

Just to expand on Dan's idea regarding enabling iPhone applications to receive data from the boat. I'd like to see an iPhone (or Android) "Appstore" for marine/navigation apps emerge, that is, a software platform that would abstract all of the necessary operational and navigation data from ship's systems into an open standard-based set of APIs that would allow 3rd parties to innovate on top. This would really catalyze marine software innovation and would likely result in 1000s of powerful new apps and services.

Posted by: Drew Clark at October 21, 2009 11:00 AM | Reply

Plotters running next generation Google Earth type technology with marine cartography cached for offline use, but automatic updates from one way broadband internet via sat, and/or other forms of internet access that can seemlessly run offline when link not available.

The concept of a static chart revision on a memory card will seem rather quaint and out of date. Plotters should be getting upto date chart data from the sky, inc updates, weather, real time nav warnings, interface with new gen digital VHF comms using text and voice technology for message reliability, clarity, message logging, etc. VHF needs to switch to digital compression technology and text messaging as well as voice. DSC is prehistoric analogue and only handles calling, not messaging.

iPhone and iPod shows convergence can work, perhaps one MFD display and one marinised black box should be able to handle a lot of a vessels nav aids, comms, AP, security, tracking, internet access, etc. Too many seperate gadgets to install and wire up at the moment as more and more toys emerge, put them in one ruggadised box with some clever redundancy technology and mass produce cheap as chips!

Posted by: OceanFroggie at October 21, 2009 11:10 AM | Reply

There's a special kind of store in Annapolis called Bacon's, with thousands of used sails in a warehouse, and a large sales room full of used (and some new) boaty "stuff". It is especially interesting to examine the older electronics on display. They might more aptly be describes as older electro-mechanicals: autopilots, sounders, knot logs and more. They are all massive, clunky, and probably crabby too. The true wonder is that a few decades ago sailors went to sea with great pride in these old beauties.

Like consumer electronics, the trend has been to sleeker, lighter, and feature-packed versions that are mass produced on automated assemblers and rolled into plastic bags and Styrofoam boxes untouched by fallible human hands. Also like consumer electronics, new versions with even more gee-whiz appear at regular intervals. Unfortunately, the products these latest versions are meant to replace are nowhere near end-of-life. That elderly computer in the top shelf of your closet could probably be brought back to life and run as well today as it ever did, if you could stand it. It will seem agonizing slow compared to today's crop, but it hasn't changed.

The point is that Consumer Electronics, and by extension Marine Electronics are changing US! We want more convenience and comprhensibility today. This fact is alarming to conservative and traditional folks, who represent a larger proportion of Boat Folk than the general consumer population. The debate continues over the decline in traditional skills versus the dependence on more accurate and reliable gadgets. The debate will never be resolved, but it does restrain the acceptance of development

It�s easy to predict the future of Marine Electronics because they follow, by as much as a few years, the developments in Consumer Electronics. For example, open up a fancy new home stereo tuner/amp. Inside you will find a lot of... air? There will be a shockingly small number of chips on a circuit board that perform all the functions (and more) of a tuner/amp four generations older, in a box that is still the same size as the older generation, perhaps with some extra weight just to make it feel valuable! Consumers want something substantial when they are asked to pay a premium price. Until now, that is!

There is a device that is revolutionizing this traditional consumer bias: The Apple iPhone. Consider this: If you walked into a typical modern home of the 1990's and carted out the telephones, answering machines, still and movie cameras, televisions, radios, VCRs, and projectors, along with every book in the house, all the movies, records and tapes, and every picture ever taken, you would need a full sized van to get away. Now you can slip all that into a pocket and forget it�s there. Drop it down the stairwell and it�s no big thing because you have a backup on your laptop, which cost less than what you paid for one TV back then!

At last the electronics industry; industrial, marine, consumer, et al., is being challenged to deliver something that serves several purposes: small, tightly integrated, and highly reliable polyfunction devices that place minimal demands on natural resources and do all the things a multitude of other gadgets can do, better.

It might be fun to project this trend into a Heinlein-esque future, and make it a coin-sized sub-cutaneous device that projects detailed images directly into the cerebral cortex, but in the shorter term, it�s easy to envision appropriately sized displays with expandable CPUs that talk to and understand every conceivable information-provider, integrate all of this data in an intuitively comprehensible audible and visual package.

Unfortunately, current Multifunction Displays are sealed containers. When you become dissatisfied with one aspect of the unit, you have to replace everything. Since the display is the most expensive component, this can be a very pricey proposition. It would be more appealing to unbundle some of these features, and in the spirit of NMEA 2000, make it possible to mix and match multiple manufacturer�s products to achieve your complete satisfaction. It�s very much like going from that huge piece of furniture of the 1950�s to the mare�s nest pile of a stereo component system much beloved of audiophiles of the 1970�s. This solution will be met with no little trepedation by major marine electronics manufacturers, and the perils to the consumer are obvious. It would seem a return to the early Tower-of-Babel days of NMEA 0183.

But salvation comes with N2K, or it will when there is a wireless version of N2K and broadband. Picture this: A balmy (or cold rainy miserable) day in the cockpit with a nice but not outrageously over-sized sunlight readable display, which has an internal emergency battery and a wireless connection to a nearby but protected collection of snap-together components that accept data from a myriad of sources: transducers, cameras, radios, and satellites, pulling down additional data on demand from some internet-in-the-sky source (or ULF from any of the Earth�s oceans!) that runs on solar, wind, water or beamed energy resources.

Mother Nature will take serious umbrage at this apparent lack of due respect!

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at October 21, 2009 11:41 AM | Reply

From a software engineers perspective, I think interoperability and open standards are what is necessary to bring the marine electronics industry out of the 1990's mindset that they still seem to have. Remember the old days of computing? Bob is using a Mac, I'm on a PC, Sally uses Word, but Susy uses WordPerfect so nobody can exchange data. You don't hear this at all today, we are exchanging RTF, XML, email attachments, SMS, MMS... But the marine industry is still stuck. My boat came with Raymarine insturmentation, a Furuno radar, a Robertson Autopilot, and I already had a Garmin chartplotter. Guess what, same problem.


I know, I know, N2K is a standard, but it's far from "Open" and it seems to evolve about as fast as cold molasses. Where's NMEA 2010? This is how the "connectivity" that everyone is mentioning is so pervasive. It's not really the "connectivity", the innovation is in the applications that take advantage of it. But it has to really be open with no cost of entry. We may have N2K, but it's still the same players in the game, RayMarine, Furuno, Simrad, Garmin. You think these guys are going to innovate and let their devices talk to everyone else's on their own? Hell, if it wasn't for Maretron, I bet none of them would even have N2K instruments right now. New ideas, new players, fresh blood. That's what the industry needs. Open up NMEA.


I will be upgrading all my electronics, but I am waiting as log as I can because I am still not really happy with where the market is right now. I like the flexibility of the PC based route, but I like the ease of use and the features available in the MFD world. In short, I want the best of both worlds, but I don't know that it will ever happen. Why can't all of our devices just get along and talk to each other?

Posted by: OutboundSailor at October 21, 2009 12:26 PM | Reply

I'm a very long time command, control, communications and IT professional. I've been around these technologies for a lifetime and have been willing to live with almost perpetual infant mortality and incessant feature creep. In my business, quite a few people have died because they were fiddling with MFD menus when they should have been flying.

A group of us with similar military backgrounds and a passion for boats just had a Qua Vadimus seminar on marine electronics -- specifically MFDs. The consensus was just because you can cram it in doesn't mean you should cram it in -- whatever it is. On a boat with watch standers and look-outs, there may be time to absorb and act on the information provided -- once you have trained yourself to the vendor locked-in proprietary presentation and interface standards, (that often change with each new product release).

We also observed that MFDs bring peoples' eyes and brains inside the cockpit. Many of us have watched boats go by with the person at the helm as transfixed by the MFD as a kid with a new video game. Last year we had a near-fatal near us in an anchorage when a power cruiser rammed an oyster reef at 15 knots while captain, crew and guests were all admiring the electronics -- the reef was on the digital chart. On the ICW we watched as a boat rammed a daymark while the helmsman fiddled with an iPhone.

We would prefer that technology be used to make boating safer rather than to make electronics systems roll-over more lucrative. The latest thing to make no sense is bathymetric displays using data never intended for the purpose. At the Annapolis Sailboat Show we were given a demonstration of this concept. It gave us the willies. When one looks at a chart and sees blanks between soundings, the implicit message is we don't really know what the bottom looks like between those soundings. Caution is both explicit and implied. When batheymetric wire-frames are smoothed into video-game-esque wavy blue blanket, the implied message is this is what the bottom IS. Is the next feature creep adjusting the video picture for state of tide?

Given the state of non-training in the recreational boating world, the industry may have just made boaters and those around and in support of them less safe rather than more.

We have backed off video GUIs for a lot of combat systems where highly trained people have to sort through stay alive information at many times a minute. In many cases, we've gone back to text and blinking lights to keep cockpit information absorption workload manageable. Clearly a combat aircraft is not a sailboat, but the lesson, given the relative training levels, is the same. Just as the word is not the thing, neither is the MFD GUI the place -- but too many people are acting as if it is.

There is no doubt much of what the industry has to offer is fascinating, fun, and even effective, but it isn't clear to us that on the water boating is necessarily better off for all of it.

Posted by: ANeblig at October 21, 2009 1:17 PM | Reply

I'd like to see the ActiveCaptain dataset integrated into an augmented reality app like Layar. I'd rather see FLIR mashed together with an augmented reality app like Layar, but the hardware development costs would be tremendously higher then if developed on iPhone. Still, a FLIR with fixed mount screen and augmented reality would be really neat! I think an outfit like ActiveCaptain should use their data to create a Layar. It would be really nice on an iPhone. How do I get Jeff Siegal on board?

It might also be interesting if an MFD became a platform where software could run. To some extent this is happening with NMEA 2000. As companies develop hardware "apps" that integrate with an MFD. What if an MFD could run Active Captain or other apps like the iPhone does? The mind ponders what apps developers might try to create. Might speed up AIS-VHF integration and calling. As people develop "phonebook" apps. Or other social networking apps like Loopt.

Posted by: Bob Mueller at October 21, 2009 1:19 PM | Reply

Hi Ben

You have covered a number of great areas as to trends.

The inclusion of entertainment is spot on. Sirius already includes the Sirius Radio into the Raymarine MFD which only requires speakers and you are good to go!

Something that you didn't mention is the price of Satellite is coming down. Much like the early days of internet access when costs were high, we are starting to see these costs come down. HughesNet now offers 2-way Sat internet for its Sat TV useser on land for a very inexpensive rate compared to the current Inmarsat and Sat phone systems. While this is not perfect for long range travelers, it is the next step in Sat access to internet which is also VoIP for communications.

I would like to also note that you asked for every trend there should be a counter trend, what woul it be? - IMHO - The greater the technology we get, the easier it is for lesser experienced boaters to venture further. The counter trend is that these folks are not familiar with the basics of navigation and if (when) the electronics fail it is usually at the worst possible time to learn the basics! :)

Some very cool things coming along. I'm jazzed!

Posted by: Tom Petersen at October 21, 2009 3:43 PM | Reply

I would like to see "real time" google earth type program showing a live picture on the screen from above and nautical charts that update automatically according to the tide level at the current time.

A futuristic look might include:
We will have "Drone Type" boats that we can control like the military does like their "Drone Aircraft". We could visit any place in the world without even leaving the comfort of our home. .It would also catch fish, clean it, process it and deliver it to our home.

Posted by: Jeff at October 21, 2009 4:03 PM | Reply

http://www.edparsons.com/2009/10/tomtom-go-i-90-the-end-of-the-line-for-pnds/

Ed Parsons suggests that the future for in-car displays is just to show a decent size picture from the smartphone. Maybe for boats too?

Posted by: BrianSJ at October 21, 2009 5:07 PM | Reply

There are a couple of trends which I have not seen mentioned yet:

1) Hybrid propulsion systems. We are seeing rapid development of electric cars in the automotive industry. This will lead to advances in storage batteries and control electronics as well. I suspect that much of this technology may find its way onto boats in the coming years.

2) Ubiquitous electronics � think of the electronic flush valves on toilets, automatic paper towel dispensers and automated faucets one sees in public restrooms. Electronic chips and microprocessors have become so cheap that it makes sense to use them in devices like this. Even LEDs (which are after all electronic devices) are routinely controlled by integrated circuits to manage current and prolong life.

It has mentioned that trends in marine electronics will be driven by consumer electronics, and I agree. Just as the space program gave us Tang, we can expect similar spillover to boating. Every day I see drivers in their cars talking on their cellphones (distracted drivers), and this is being recognized as a hazard leading to laws against it in many states. This has lead to many people wearing Bluetooth headsets to talk on the phone while driving.

Will the trend for next year be helmsman wearing Bluetooth headsets at the wheel?

Posted by: JonnyBoats at October 21, 2009 5:39 PM | Reply

Ben

How about adding advances in solar systems to power all this cool stuff...at least on sailboats.

Jim

Posted by: Jim H. at October 21, 2009 9:47 PM | Reply

Displays will evolve to one of two formats: Either OLED (organic light emitting diodes) or eInk.
The former, once you see it, will astound you with the contrast and clarity. People who have seen OLED TV's are amazed as both LCD and Plasma do not come close to the quality of the image. The ability to distinguish elements on a screen and the ease on your eyes has nothing to do with the size of the screen but rather the resolution. In this respect, OLED can actually reduce the need for a larger screen to accomodate all the visual information you want to have displayed.

eINk has the advantage of requiring no power whatsoever to display the information. The only time power is used is when the screen changes. You can leave it on for a week with no power consumption. eInk has to further develop color, but the contrast is outstanding, similar to newsprint, which is the gold standard.

Re: displays, the tendency is to display as much information as possible. It seems counter intuitive to limit the information but in reality this is not only more user friendly, but safer. Otherwise you have information glut and it is hard to spot a critical value. The principle here is that "less is more."

Finally sonar has to further evolve into the quality presently seen in the medical field, with the quality of images using two dimensional arrays far surpassing anything you have experienced in the Marine world of electronics. This will revolutionize the display of the underwater environment, particularly with the inclusion of color doppler, which will allow display of different currents at different layers under the boat.

Posted by: Keith at October 21, 2009 11:03 PM | Reply

We need a contrarian view, a reality check. Some grumpy old traditionalist should weigh in here. The shoe does not fit me well, but ANeblig raises some good points.

Information overload. Screen fascination. Dependency. Scary weather. Too much watch-in and too little watch-out. No juice.

Is all that sybaritic stimulation really what drew us to the oceans to begin with? Or are we cocooning ourselves from the very things that brought us out on the water?

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at October 22, 2009 10:38 AM | Reply

Widespread adaptation of N2K
Widespread adaptation if Capi2 type wiring.
Above sent to a wireless two screen device much like the new Barns & Noble Nook reader, an open system running on, in this case Android.

Posted by: Jeff at October 22, 2009 5:18 PM | Reply

There are several things I'd like to see, but those aren't relevant to your question, are they? You asked for trends and counter-trends.

I think adoption of NMEA 2k will be slower than the pundits predict. New boats drive new technology, followed by major refits. Both are slowed by the state of the economy. Capabilities that plug into the "edges" of boat networks will lead near-term trends. AIS Class B transponders and ultrasonic sensors for wind speed & direction and boat speed will sell out of proportion to other new technologies.

Actual NMEA 2k installations will follow the same slow adoption curve that NMEA 0183 did.

As cell companies continue to fine-tune their networks and tweak antenna patterns to focus on their customer base (which doesn't include coverage of large swaths of water) nano- and pico-cells and other sorts of cell-phone repeaters will shake out and just a few brands will become the ones nearly everyone uses. A similar shake out will occur in wifi range extenders.

Counter-trends include the "blackberry effect" of operators with their heads inside the boat playing with electronics instead of maintaining a watch. There have been accidents already. Those will continue. Eventually someone will plow through a fleet of kids sailing Optimists for a youth program. This--among other reasons--is why my own MFD is under the dodger and not on the pedastal.

At least among sailors there will be a backlash on power consumption. An E80 draws 20 watts. An E120 draws 32 watts. I don't want to even think about what the new widescreen displays draw. Add all the other "always-on" technologies and the consumption becomes a real problem. It is already an issue for cruisers - it will become one for the weekend sailor as well.

RFI will sporadically lead to failures that reduce the perception of reliability. If your autopilot has a bluetooth remote and your cell phone has a bluetooth headset how will you feel when your boat turns 90 degrees to the left whenever your phone rings? *grin*

A counter-counter-trend will be increased desire for power efficiency as the public culture becomes more energy concerned. LEDs will be a significant after market. PV solar will start showing up on power boats as well as sail.

Lots of good ideas will show up on the market and turn out not to scale well and thus disappear. Look for plenty of churn in the gadget end of the markets.

Posted by: Auspicious at October 22, 2009 9:18 PM | Reply

You left out one trend in your text, but you have two examples in your photo! In the near future, every product will have some sort of touch screen interface. Consumers are demanding zero training time, and nothing is faster to learn than touching something and moving it.

Counter trends: manuals have gotten far worse over the years. They are expensive to produce (especially if you sell to many countries) and tend to go out of date quickly. I like my Garmin (aside from some serious software problems) but the manual is one of the worst things I have seen in 30 years of electronics development and use. The goal is to make the machine so friendly that you don't need a manual (which is fine except when things don't work.)

Larger displays are another obvious trend to point out, screens on even five-year-old boats look antiquated.

Another trend is the ability of MFDs to display their output onto remote screens -- this used to be rare but is now common. Upcoming expect to see more units that can put their output onto *multiple* screens.

Finally, the saddest trend that seems to be picking up steam is bankruptcy and consolidation. Let's hope I'm wrong on that one.

Posted by: George R at October 22, 2009 11:41 PM | Reply

Regarding AIS: I don't know if anybody opposes using AIS receivers. I do wish that those of us who promote electronics would also promote a realistic attitude about the limits of this very useful but not infallible tool. Until AIS shows the barges behind the tug for all tugs on the water it must be considered secondary to radar.

I'm not sure that you will see universal adoption of AIS for larger boats unless there is some government body (or insurance rule) that mandates it. There are a lot of people who have a general reluctance to have their every move watched -- and in some places it is not a smart idea to broadcast the location of a big, expensive, and lightly manned yacht.

Posted by: George R at October 22, 2009 11:56 PM | Reply

- Solid state hard drives in chartplotters

- My WiFi (e.g. device that captures EvDO wireless broadband signal and makes it available to nearby WiFi capable computers)

- eReaders and PC's bring an end to paper manuals being distributed with new marine electronics, and available for old electronics as well.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at October 23, 2009 7:41 AM | Reply

1) MFDs are about operating in vibration and temperature extremes and a marine environment.

(Please don't) throw a bucket of sea water over your laptop (and many touchscreen-only MFD products) and see how usable things become.

2) Regarding power consumption - bright large displays with good sunlight performance take power until display technology changes.

The computers themselves are often far more frugal than regular laptops but as soon as you want multimedia and fancy smooth animated high definition displays also expect the graphics chips to hurt the power budget.

3) I'm not sure entertainment is a sensible thing to heavily integrate with an MFD. Remote controls and speaker wiring to a commodity laptop media centre maybe.

Swap out your $3000 MFD for a $4000 multimedia MFD or just add $300 media laptop?

4) Internet and the information it provides will make a tremendous difference.
Though many are guarded about sharing their information such as waypoints, local tips and even position.
A virtual AIS using the internet?

Access to boat technical data and direct link to support personnel perhaps.

5) An MFD can improve situation and boat system awareness and even diagnosis/suggestions, but for most it is merely a set of tools to help everyone extract maximum pleasure and minimum risk from their boating trip.

MOST sailors aren't driven by the need for gadgets, in fact many are intimidated by them.

Perhaps a wider section of potential MFD purchasers (and reviewers :) ) are gadget-aware though

6) Touchscreens are forcing a re-think to usability which is sorely needed, but in themselves may not be appropriate on a significantly moving boat?

7) Google earth with customised information has certainly raised expectations. That will become reality when common-place boat broadband makes it possible and map data is available.

Posted by: Anonymous at October 23, 2009 8:07 AM | Reply

"a possible major disruption just over the horizon"? What are you referring to, Ben? Come on, WE won't tell! What is it: a heads-up display in a pair of sunglasses? A coaching whisper in your earbuds? ("thats a mean looking cloud over there, let's reef..."). Inquiring minds want to KNOW!

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at October 23, 2009 11:33 AM | Reply

What about portables and solar power?. I've been using Garmin GPSmap 620 and MaxSea Time Zero 1.6 both together in our family sailing cruise this summer. By the end, the small Garmin was my favourite. You can use it anywere, you charge it when you can or want, or you clip it on the table chart. Navigation PC software still depends on Windows (my dear Vista) and lots of electricity. I also rely on Tacktick solar powered multifunction displays. Goodby cables, goodby problems. Simple was not best?

Posted by: enric rosell� at October 23, 2009 11:56 AM | Reply

Position information is a commodity. It is built into a lot of devices now for almost no cost. Same with the ability to communicate wirelessly.

You have a device in your pocket that knows when you get in your car and can communicate with a display on the dash. It knows that you have a meeting across town in a half hour and displays the best way to get there. It also knows you like a certain brand of coffee so shows you where those shops are enroute. It also knows you have light bulbs on your shopping list and finds them at a good price at a store you can easily stop by during this trip.

Your boat has a number of wireless sensors so, when you step aboard, the device in your pocket notices there is a nice breeze and the sun is out. It knows your schedule and where you've been in the past so it offers up new or favorite destinations that fit with the time you have and tells you all about what's there that you might like. You can associate pictures and movies with your location. All conversation is be recorded and transcribed so you can remember what you talked about on the trip.

All these parts exist now. It's just a matter of integration.

Personally I want my phone to notice I'm on the boat, suggest a good cigar, and turn itself off.

Posted by: John Williams at October 23, 2009 12:46 PM | Reply

Ha! John, aren't you the guy who navigates on a little UMPC? Heck of a deal at sellout.woot today:

http://sellout.woot.com

Posted by: Ben at October 23, 2009 1:34 PM | Reply

- Hopefully we will see a trend towards various tanks (water, waste, fuel) having standard holes so that we can insert NMEA-2000 sensors more easily. Seems only diesel tanks come this way on production boats.

- I believe all the work to build hybrid systems in cars and boats, will lead shortly to a big difference in the standard configuration production sailboats without hybrid power will have. In addition to having as a standard house battery a new technology battery that quickly takes charges, I predict 5 yrs from now or sooner a 36 foot or better catalina / beneteau / hunters without hybrid power will have either (1) or (2) below:
(1) AC Centered
- It will be standard for the aux diesel to have a generator attached to the back, like the Yanmar option available now.
- A combination battery charger / power inverter that will be capable of power A/C devices on the boat and when demand requires, supplementing the generator output with power from the battery.
(2) DC Centered
- It will be standard for the aux diesel to have a high capacity direct drive driven 250AMP or larger alternator
- A similiar combination battery charger / power inverter to the above with the battery charger component likely sized much smaller.

In either configuration a sailboat (or powerboat) owner will be able to
- get their batteries charged up to 95% with a very limited amount of diesel runtime making it possible to have many electronics on board even with a 200 Ahr house battery
- solar cells and fuel cells(?) are sized only to keep an unoccupied boats batteries topped off.
- seperate generators are a thing of the past
- wind generators are driven to an even smaller niche market.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at October 24, 2009 6:08 PM | Reply

Now with the fly-by-wire technology on boats, and with Smartcraft building engines with the autopilot built-in then why can't the engine and the MFD's communicate through the NMEA 2000, and have the ability for collision aviodance? If you set up your radar guard on the boat and it goes off, the the engine goes into "skyhook" or if and AIS target comes to close then the engine goes into "skyhook". The technology is there, just need the right minds to put it together.

Posted by: Seth Lippincott at October 24, 2009 8:18 PM | Reply

I echo what others have said about PC based nav systems. Since charts are now free for these systems, I think the writing is on the wall for chartplotters as we now know them with their expensive map cards. My MacBook is far more capable than my chartplotter, and much cheaper too.

I also think that we will see more "smart" inverter/chargers such as those now available from Victron. These are actually power management systems that use battery power to top up power from shore facilities or a generator, then add power back into the batteries when demand drops off.

Posted by: Rick at October 24, 2009 10:26 PM | Reply

Writing on the wall? I disagree! That's like saying the writing is on the wall for PC's to replace television setup boxes or the TV itself in our homes because now we can get tuners, channel guides, even DVR software for our PC's free.

Some people do integrate their PC's into their entertainment centers, but so far as I can see, the time investment is huge, family members compalin how difficult it is to use, and for all that effort its a continued maintenance headache reducing how much of your limited free time is available for actually enjoying TV.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at October 25, 2009 6:44 AM | Reply

How about hybrid touch scree and button type marinized monitors which are driven by black boxes which you load software on sort of like the mix of a PC and an MFD.

You could drive multiple display heads, wired or wireless and it would of course have a non mechanical back up.

If screen technology improved you can change out your display heads one as desired. Same with CPU. The display heads would be modular so you wouldn't have to rip your boat's panels apart and hire a joiner each time you upgraded.

The inputs could be varied from sD cards to position fixers, to radio signals, internet, mechanical transducers and so forth.

You need to solve the crashing issue taking the entire system down.

Posted by: SanderO at October 25, 2009 7:12 AM | Reply

My 2 cents:

The modern MFD is a PC. It is running Linux or Windows XP Embedded, over which runs a closed OS specifically designed for navigation. The hardware is built for the very tough marine environment, including extra bright screens, and all sorts of sensor I/O, some standardized, some proprietary, plus an interface designed to use while driving.

Making these MFDs better takes a lot of R&D, plus it takes a lot of energy to sell and support them. Yet the market is minuscule compared to, say, consumer grade PCs and monitors. Of course they're more expensive!!!

If you navigate from a dry, shaded pilot house, you can use a regular PC and monitor, and you will get some other advantages like easier route making and less expensive weather info (when you're online), but you'll still have a hard time integrating radar, fishfinder, even NMEA 2000 sensors. Getting a similar PC set up to give you reliable, full featured navigation in a sailboat cockpit or a power boat's flying bridge is not easy and not inexpensive.

The glass bridge concept -- black boxes and monitors -- has been happening for a while, and will continue to grow. But the same differences apply. A glass bridge actually engineered for a boat is costly. This is not a plot; it's simply a reality caused by the size and environment of marine electronics.

Posted by: Ben at October 25, 2009 11:25 AM | Reply

I don't want to be called a Luddite but I think this technology thing is getting out of control. Whatever happened to the satisfaction of calculating your own course or position? The current flock of sailos (dare I use the word) would be lost (not figuratively speaking) if their electronics packed up.

Posted by: Leif at October 25, 2009 8:48 PM | Reply

Very simple:

Have MFD�s manufacturers realize that their offerings and on-board PCs are not exclusive.

What about MFDs allowing their touchscreens and screens be usable by on board PCs?. That would just require a VGA-in option plus a USB type connection for the touch interface. Difference would be huge for all of us because we would a save a screen on board

Francisco
Barcelona, Spain

Posted by: Francisco CHurtichaga at October 26, 2009 10:18 AM | Reply

That's a interesting idea, Francisco, and one a company might use to gain some market share ;-).

Some MFDs -- like NavNet 3D, Simrad NSE (coming implementation), and Raymarine E-Series -- already let you run the MFD from below with a standard monitor and keyboard/mouse (except Raymarine requires their own keyboard). Going the other way, letting an MFD serve as display and USB hub for a down below PC seems possible, and would be quite useful for many of us.

Posted by: Ben at October 26, 2009 4:02 PM | Reply

Raymarine does not seem to think a PC is valuable on board - there are not going to support their Raytech software beyond Windows XP. Since they never came out with an revision to support Vista, I thought I'd check to see if I could use a new PC loaded with Windows 7. Here's the exchange:


Question: Will Raytech RNS be upgraded to work with Windows 7 to be released Oct 22nd? I have an E120 networked to my PC via SeaTalkHS...
Response (Chuck Anderson) 10/16/2009 04:25 PM:
Unfortunately, there are no present plans to support Windows 7 in conjunction with RayTech software.

Posted by: Tom at October 26, 2009 5:04 PM | Reply

Ben,

All this talk about no distractions, internet on the water, and access to better charts � I can�t help but weigh in to mention ARGUS again (http://argus.survice.com).

ARGUS provides a very legitimate reason (or excuse if you�re already at the begging for forgiveness stage) to have an extended range Wave WiFi (www.wavewifi.com) system on your boat � since ARGUS is collecting your position and depth data to provide for the betterment of chart data that we all rely on. And once there are �enough� ARGUS units in place, the inherent meshed network will provide the backbone for improved connectivity at farther distances from shore. Picture improved internet connectivity and better charts pushed out to your chartplotter, paid for by hydrographic surveying budgets and the money insurance companies aren�t paying out for groundings (wasn�t that our money to begin with?). And there are no distractions or MFDs to look at since ARGUS is autonomous and transparent.

John Hersey
SURVICE Engineering

Posted by: John H at October 26, 2009 10:14 PM | Reply

CFIT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) was a persistent cause of airplane crashes, even among highly trained pilots with ample electronics. Now it is rare where airplanes are equipped with EGPWS (Electronic Ground Proximity Warning System). By integrating a worldwide terrain map with GPS, the system gives the inattentive, distracted or overloaded pilot a clear, unambiguous, audible messages, such as �Terrain! Pull up!�. We need the same for chartplotters (Reef! Turn left!). Coupled to the NMEA 2K, it could also provide audio messages such as �Port engine overheat�. This system would surely reduce the number of groundings, and, maybe, we might feel more comfortable with the spouse or brother-in-law piloting the boat.

Posted by: PENPE at October 28, 2009 12:17 PM | Reply

My top 3 trends:
1) connectivity to bring online information to the cockpit of our boats
2) waterproof tablet computers or netbooks to replace chart plotters
3) wireless on board

Posted by: Marcello Ferrero at October 30, 2009 6:27 PM | Reply

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