Yesterday I got to spend a few hours on a Navionics test boat tooling around Bass River, Cape Cod (unfortunately damnable cars and planes were also involved in the trip). A few of us boating writers got to fool with eight chart plotters, and see first hand what Navionics is up to for 2008 (very cool, but I can’t write about it just yet). Another highlight was spending time with company founder Giuseppe Carnevali. This is not the first demo cruise I’ve taken with this gentleman and I’ve come to appreciate his fathomless enthusiasm for cartography, the technologies that make it better, and boating. He’s been a creative force in marine electronics since he and Fosco Bianchetti developed the first vector charts in the early 80’s. Yesterday it occurred to me that with Bianchetti selling C-Map and Darrell Lowrance finally retired, Giuseppe is one of the last of his generation still pushing this field forward. And he’s going strong.
Continuing on about how we’ve just gotten started with electronic cartography, check out the demo video at Perceptive Pixel showing the developers exercising two handed control over Google Earth and other imagery. Then there’s Microsoft’s new “Surface Computing”—also “multi touch”—nicely presented by Popular Mechanics on this video. It sure seems possible that the ‘surface’ could be one wizbang chart table…eventually. Meanwhile, Google has introduced Maplets, which means that users can now contribute mini applications as well as content. And Michael “heywhatsthat” Kosowsky has already created three, two of which I used in the mashup below (and bigger here). One very usefully overlays Michael’s topo lines and the other guesstimates new shorelines if sea level rises. Just add 150 feet and I’ve got waterfront!
Where is this bubbling geographic/Internet stew going to take us (like EarthNC), and, in particular, what the heck else is being created nearly under my nose (like ActiveCaptain)? The latest is a rather amazing service created by one Michael Kosowsky out in the Lincolnville hills west of Panbo HQ. It began with Michael wondering what distant bumps he was seeing from his yard and now--much programming later--he's inventor/proprietor of Hey, what's that. Check it out. Right off the bat you'll see what's what from Mt. Battie, which happens to be where I took the header photo of Camden Harbor above. You'll see it centered in Google Maps with each visible peak marked by an icon, along with a panorama view above and a list of the spots to the right, each interactively clickable. But you've just gotten started.
Today Garmin announced a slew of new tools meant to encourage third parties—commercial and otherwise—to interact every which way with Garmin hardware. I’m not a developer, but my quick read suggests that possibilities include writing a cell phone app that’ll get location from a Garmin GPS via Bluetooth; equipping a Web site with an easy way to up/down-load waypoints, routes, and tracks; creating a set of “Garmin Rich POIs” (GPI) from raw XML or GPX files; and more. In fact, it looks like Garmin is going to share some of the sophisticated software goodies it acquired with Motion Based, figuring, I guess, that even if other developers make something good enough to command subscriptions, Garmin will still get the hardware sales. But like I say I don’t really understand all the developer talk. So I’m hoping that those of you who do will check out the new site and report back.
It wasn’t surprising that Jeppesen Marine’s Miami press conference was meatier than Navico’s. Jep’s acquisition of C-Map had been through a many-month due diligence process and had already closed before the boat show. I came away thinking that existing C-Map customers, retail and OEM, have nothing to worry about, and that the products that evolve out of this combination are going to be interesting. For one thing, we were introduced to the new manager of the Recreational division, James Detar—to the left above, with Jeppesen Marine VP Tim Sukle and Nobeltec manager Shepard Tucker. Detar seems evolved for the task; he grew up in a Cape Cod boatyard, then went on to earn an advanced degree in cartography and work at C-Map for some 15 years, first in chart production, then business development. He even speaks fluent Italian. When asked if Jeppesen would change any of C-Map’s many existing OEM relationships, Detar said, very convincingly: “Absolutely not!” Sukle and Tucker described the overall vision of Jeppesen Marine, which is next generation charts/data/software (not hardware), both for OEM’s and their own products. Thus Nobeltec will help advance C-Map’s plotter OS much like it’s worked backstage on Simrad’s Glass Bridge and certain Northstar products. (I later spoke with a big C-Map OEM, and he’s excited). Tucker also described how Jeppesen is applying its massive resources to a set of Web services that will include facilities for users to share data, including POI info, with each other and the world. That made me smile.
Jeppesen, by the way, has a heck of a history. It didn’t seem to be in the movie (worth watching), but we were told that founder, and early mail pilot, Elrey Jeppesen famously said, “I didn’t do this to make money; I did it to stay alive!”
Some might quibble with “distinctively handsome profile”, but wow what a concept: 6 knots ‘free’ using 6,000 watts of photovoltaic panels laid on the (thus squarish) cabin tops and deck, but if you want to pick her up to 15 knots cruise (and/or the big AGM battery banks need topping up), the Mercedes diesel generators, living in sound proof chambers forward, kick in. This is more out-of-the-box thinking from Reuben Trane, who also put together the more subtly innovative Island Pilot I tried in August. He spoke about this hybrid idea with much enthusiasm, but I didn’t expect to see ads and a web site so soon. Needless to say, there will be a very interesting monitoring and control system on these boats.
Brunswick still hasn’t sold its BNT electronics division, but a big reason it might want to raise cash is becoming more apparent. Ever since the stock price popped a bit on the late April announcement, it’s been downhill sledding. And yesterday was awful as BC announced “significant” retail sales declines and plans to reduce production. (Overall this is not a good sign for the economy, or my business, though, wow, BC’s big boats are still selling.)
Meanwhile the rumors about who would buy BNT have pretty much died down…but Northstar/Navman seems to be chugging along just fine. In fact, I’ve got two folders of really interesting screen shots to share in the near future, and BNT ME recently announced a big sale of 8000i gear to Viking Yachts. (Whose sales may be just fine, because…oh, I don’t know…we’re living in the Roaring 00’s?)
Let’s see, according to the Samsung press release, that little 32 gig solid state drive (SSD) she’s holding, used in the new laptop and UMPC, can take twice the impact of a regular shock resistant laptop HD, reads 300% faster, and runs much cooler (meaning that its easier to waterproof the surrounding box). Of course it’s a little pricey now, but won’t these be useful around an electronic helm? (credit: Gizmodo)
The May issue of BoatUS magazine has this “Action Alert”:
With no warning to users, the U.S. Coast Guard has proposed termination of the Loran system by requesting zero budget for Loran in its FY 07 budget request sent to Congress. This surprising development came with no stakeholders’ input and after the Coast Guard spent $160 million modernizing the Loran system, an improvement in signal strength, maintenance and coverage that is nearly complete.
Surprise, indeed! For years I’ve been telling folks that an improved Loran will return as a back-up to GPS. What gives? Well, I take solace in the rosy report currently on the opening page of the International Loran Association, well worth a read even if it predates the USCG announcement. According to the author—the inimitable and very credible Langhorne Bond, who I once interviewed for an article about GPS vunerability—Loran has proven itself the perfect complement to the satellite system for marine and aero navigation, not to mention precision timing (for power plants and much more). But he does note that fair allocation of the operating costs is an issue:
The Coast Guard pays the full operating costs and feels this is inequitable due to the future multi-model uses of LORAN.The Coast Guard is dead right, although the inter-agency discussion of this is likely to be gritty.
Gritty? Ah ha! I’m hoping that the CG budget surprise is not really about killing Loran, but about forcing other agencies to help pay for it. Still, we should all play our part. I’m taking BoatUS’s advice to write my congress people, only I’m adding a line about sharing the costs/giving the CG a break. I also plan to test the loaner eLoran I’ve been neglecting.
By the way, the picture, flushed out by Google images, is a Loran station on Attu in 1945. There’s even a bit of its history online. The USCG has been at this for some time.
On April 25th Brunswick formally promoted David Ritblatt from general manager to president of BNTME , and then two days later announced that BNT was for sale! How much did Ritblatt know and when did he know it? Why is Brunswick selling? Ritblatt responds to this general line of enquiry with some joking about being “in the dark” himself. I’m not sure about that, but I do see his point that as long as BNTME is healthy things are going to work out. Here are more aphorism-sprinkled points he made in our conversation last Friday:
* He stands by his MEJ predictions about developing an even closer relationship with Brunswick boat builders, “The planned sale of BNT Marine Electronics will not impact Brunswick’s strategy to integrate marine electronics. It is not necessary to manufacture Northstar and Navman products to integrate them into Brunswick boats.” Or: “You don’t need to own the cow to get a nice glass of milk.”
* He noted that BNTME just had its best month ever, including a 40% sales increase, and says he’s ‘honored’ by the many ‘interesting’ companies considering an acquisition. “They wouldn’t be hunting like this if the meat wasn’t tasty.”
* He did acknowledge a rumor I’d heard about delays in delivery of Northstar’s new 6100i series, but says they will be here this month (May), and that the 8000i will be delivered on schedule in June. The 6100i, incidently, is a juiced up version of the 6000i with support of Navionics Platinum charts and the new radar scanners which also work with the 8000i, and will eventually work (October) with the Navman 8120. The delay, he said, was logistical as manufacturing moved from Acton, Massachusetts to Auckland, New Zealand, which also resulted in price reductions. (There’s a sad aspect to that move, too, which I noted in my March column about BNTME, Ritblatt, and the 8000i—a column I just happily discovered is posted as a PDF at Northstar’s site).
* Ritblatt also noted that BNTME has a 100 engineers working on marine electronics products and what he thinks is the highest rate (% sales) of R&D investment in the industry. Finally, he gave me an impressive but off-the-record preview of products under development. There was an aphorism involved, but I’ve been asked not to repeat that either! Overall I’d say that while Ritblatt’s enthusiasm is no doubt part of his job description, his confidence in the future is pretty darn convincing.