This babe, the first of Inmarsat’s 4th generation satellite fleet, was launched in March and recently went into service over the Indian Ocean. That dish antenna is 9 meters across, the array of solar panels extend 45 meters. The flap at far left is a “sail”, able to “harness pressure exerted by particles from the Sun - the solar wind - to steer the I-4 and fine-tune its orbital position”. This bird is already improving existing Inmarsat service in its planet print, and is just about to really show its stuff in terms of high speed data. Tim Queeney at Ocean Navigator nicely lays out what this all means for actual boat communications here (not much yet, unless your ride is a megayacht).
Never mind that Yme covered this Friday’s (mega) gizmo early last year. LookSea is truly unique, little known, and, besides, it was developed right here in the great state of Maine. What you’re seeing—larger image here—are a fenced route and buoy icons precisely superimposed on the video flowing from a pan and tilt, high resolution, wide angle camera mounted on the cabin top. ARPA and AIS targets, charted obstructions, and whatever else you need (and only what you need) can also be geopositioned on the live video. This is damn tricky to pull off accurately, and if it wasn’t done really fast, it would literally make you sick. I saw it demoed in a bouncy little boat on a snotty night, and can tell you that it works beautifully (fat .pdf of my article available here). I second the claim that LookSea is the “only augmented reality marine navigational system available and represents a quantum leap in safety and situational awareness.” It’s darn expensive, but I figure it’s a harbinger of things to come. (LookSea now a good step-by-step demo and other materials here).
I’m on the road to Annapolis where I’ll get to trial Maptech’s wild new fishfinder module for its i3 system, maybe catch a croaker too. The poor photo above is of a simulation playing at the Miami Boat Show introduction. You can see on the left a regular 2D fishfinder screen while on the right the fish targets have been placed into a 3D bathy model; among other things, you can control how long targets stay on screen so that you can learn where fish hang out over time. Then on Thursday I’m visiting Airmar, source of the transducer and processor behind this module, and much more. My posting may get a little raggedy.
If you go to the NMEA Web site and click on “NMEA 2000 Info”, the very first thing you’ll learn is how expensive it is to use the standard. These fees piss off small developers no end. (And isn’t it poor marketing on the part of NMEA? Why not have some good dope there about how the standard works and what it can do?) But the fees are there to finance the infrastructure needed to truly support a complex plug’n’play standard. For instance, I recently heard that updating the software certification tool that assures compatability will cost something like $200,000.
Meanwhile, I was out on Sunday checking out the benefits of that compatability again, and looking foolish. (Is there a geekier 14’ outboard afloat?) Now I have the laptop mounted, also sharing data fine, though currently the Maretron gateway translates 2000 into 0183 because no PC program reads NMEA 2000 directly. That’s going to change, and I’m told that eventually thousands of independent programmers will be using 2000 data to build boat applications we haven’t imagined yet.
I like this: GPS backed up—plus made more accurate, even able to deliver better than 1° heading accuracy at rest—with LORAN! And this is LORAN without the fiddly complexity of compensating for “Additional Secondary Factors” in coastal waters or switching ‘Chains’ on long voyages. Si-Tex’s eLoran is not quite shipping yet, but I’ll bet it will get loads of attention (Chuck Husick already has this to say). In fact, we’ve all gotten so dependent on GPS that it’s a little scary. I wrote about its vulnerability, and the possible resurgence of LORAN as a complimentary system back in 2002, and have since noted the government’s funding of LORAN base station improvements. It’s great to see belt & suspenders electronic positioning come to recreational boating, not to mention the non magnetic heading sensor capability. Actually, eLoran is one result of a military research contract executed by Si-Tex’s mother company, Koden. Note that this initial product will only work with certain Si-Tex plotters and PC software at first, but other manufacturers will be free to add compatability. I’ve also been told that eLoran will cost about $1,000, and I plan to try one out when available.
Eli, proprietor of the often stimulating EliBoat, knows Maine waters and yesterday wondered “if the new charting programs will ever find a way to plot 6 trillion lobster pots.” His number is only a slight exaggeration; the pot buoys and their warps really are a navigation problem. Eli jests but I do hear talk of AIS transponders replacing RACON buoys at harbor entrances and maybe someday the tiny RFID radios supposedly coming to everything in Walmart will warn a boater of a dead on buoy about to tangle his prop. But in the meantime a sharp blade can do what electronics can’t. I tried this Hook Knife from Sailors Solutions last summer and it is wickedly effective.
It’s hard to reconcile the somewhat goofy bridge scene above with the wicked looking warship below, but they represent the same yet unbuilt U.S. Navy design called a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Picture an aluminum and steel 127m (417’) trimaran capable of sustained “sprints” at 47 knots and tight manuevering—even in shoal water—with waterjets and steerable thrusters. While flying last week I met an enthusiastic General Dynamics engineer who gave me the Web address of this fascinating project. Of particular note to electronics geeks is the design’s “flexible information technology backbone that allows ‘plug and play’ integration.” Apparently the Navy has imposed “open architecture” requirements and GD’s solution “leverages industry standards and non-proprietary interfaces.” I guess that explains all the Dell monitors on the mockup bridge, and I wonder if they are using NMEA 2000? And wouldn’t the LCS design make a hell of a megayacht, though Larry Ellison—no relation—would have to settle for something shorter than his current ride. (More pictures here).
When Navionics Platinum chart cards come out this summer, 3D photo mapping will come to boat plotters. Platinum (still not much on the Web yet) is really going to turn some heads, as it did during the Miami Boat Show. If you want to see what the eventual possibilities are, take a look at NASA’s free program World Wind. It’s not quite as user friendly as Keyhole, but has higher resolution photography for much of the U.S. The screen shot above (bigger here) shows a Hilton in Clearwater Beach, Florida, where I’m attending a magazine meeting this week. In World Wind I was able to check out the beach and marinas, etc. before I got here. You’ll understand why posting may be irregular this week!
“Let us now praise consumer electronics—the iPod, Palm Pilot, the computer and even the not-so-lowly TV set. Why? Because while virtually everything else in yachting becomes more costly, marine electronics consistently provide more value for your money, in large measure due to the use of the billions of dollars invested in consumer product technology.”
That’s how Chuck Husick begins his latest at Yachtingnet, an interesting look at new trends. Chuck’s piece led me to learn more about Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) screens, like the prototype shown. Note that someone at Yachtingnet, probably not Chuck, mistakenly captioned the Airmar WeatherStation as wireless; it’s not, though it’s a fascinating product.