August 2006 Archives

Triple eye candy, the NVTi 5000/6000

Aug 31, 2006

NVTi 6000 2

NVTi’s new 5000 and 6000 series multi-camera night vision gear got a nice mention from an interesting blog called Core77, which noted how the industrial designers behind the striking look above did a study of the yacht aesthetic which led them “to embody notions of speed, precision, durability and sex appeal as the camera's key characteristics. The camera head, consisting of a brilliant white aluminum body and tungsten rings, and its motor base are separated, allowing the unit to appear sleek, agile and vigilant on the deck.” (Which happens to be my personal on-deck goal as well.)
   It’s funny to see this baby and the company’s now rather plain-looking earlier designs all lined on NVTi’s product page. From there you can also find out about  the various improvements the company has made on a technology that had already impressed me quite a bit. You can get wider field of vision on the thermal cams, yet more zoom on the low lights, plus 2-axis gyro stabilization on the whole shebang, and—very cool—the ability to lock onto a target selected off your radar screen. “…be it a floating container or another vessel, the cameras will automatically track to that location.  Locking onto the object, the cameras will follow it until the craft passes by safely.” I’m guessing that this feature uses MARPA, but I’m not sure; there’s a picture, none too great, below, and good tracking videos here. All nice, but do note that this new design starts at $73,000.

NVTi radar integration

Congress cutting NOAA chart funding, I wonder?

Aug 30, 2006

BoatUS gov affairs

I’m very glad that BoatU.S. keeps a boater’s eyeball trained on the government, but, man, it must be hard to understand what’s going on sometimes. The organization’s latest concern is a Congressional budget proposal that cuts “the President’s request for Mapping & Charting and virtually zeroed out any funding for converting existing paper charts into electronic files.” Say what? The piece goes on to lay out all the reasons why that is a bad idea, including the idea that conversion to ENCs will save money eventually. Anyone guess why congress thinks this program a waste?

High tech submarine, off the shelf plotter

Aug 30, 2006

Sub Texas

Funny that just yesterday I referenced my own submarine experience, which involved a Garmin, and today two Panbotes tip me to an AP article about the brand new 377’ nuclear sub Texas, with a cool picture of the conning tower that just happens to have a Garmin 278, 376 or 478 stuck on its windshield (even Garmin doesn’t know which). I think I see a large screen mounted down lower—which goes with AP’s description of the sub’s high tech systems, even a fiber optic periscope—but the screen doesn’t seem to be on. Maybe the software is ‘delayed’, as they say (as if software could get a flat tire on the way to work), so someone went to West Marine and bought the Garmin? At any rate, bad guys on foreign shores should note that the USS Texas, among other lethal abilities, “can travel with a small special forces submarine, nine commandos and their gear”.

Shanghai sunset, mostly a sweet memory

Aug 29, 2006

Shanghai sunset 2

We’re on our second day of gray and wet here in Maine, and I’m missing that summer passage on Shanghai Baby. This shot shows us at sunset, Andrea and Rich, the-ex-sub-captain-brother-in-law on the bridge, about a quarter of the way across the Gulf of Maine on a straight shot from Monhegan Island to the Cape Cod Canal. We did the whole leg—Camden to Cuttyhunk nonstop in 25 hours—at about 1300 RPMs, or 7.5 knots, which got us about 2 miles to the gallon, a quiet ride, and a gorgeous night offshore. The electronics angle? Light pollution! That damn steaming light leaked annoyingly into both helms, a shame because otherwise both had good visibility and good control over the electronics glow levels. I’m not sure it would be legal to move the nav light to the antenna mast, which is offset because it also serves as the tender crane, but I’d sure look into it. When running at night, getting the lighting right around the helm is important.

The AIS receiver test, testing is hard!

Aug 29, 2006

Hummel AIS

This photo shows the AIS receiver test I mentioned a while back. There’s organizer Jeff Hummel of Rose Point Navigation, Doug Miller of Milltech Marine and Cory Sytsma of SeaCAS, plus eight different receivers all set up on the shore of Puget Sound. It would be great to see how they performed head-to-head, but the picture also reveals what turned out to be a significant flaw in the testing. The close proximity of receivers and antennas apparently created an interference cloud so strong that performance dropped 50–75%! For instance, the first unit that was turned on, a single channel SR161, showed a range of 17-20 miles until the others went on and its range dropped to around 7 miles. The crew did go on and collect some results (which didn’t look good for single channel models), but almost none of the manufacturers involved think they should be published. Hopefully the test will be restaged with much greater separation between the units. In the meantime, hats off to Jeff and the gang for the effort. Their work does suggest that we need to learn more about receiver interference and proper installation, and they also did a separate antenna test that we’ll publish soon.

Class B AIS, U.S. gets it last?

Aug 28, 2006

RadarPlus 3The good folks at Shine Micro sent over an update on their own Class B AIS product, RadarPlus, and the general state of the category:

* RadarPlus really exists, units licensed for experimental use are in the field (right), and test results are “very pleasing.” (Though, no surprise, receiver sensitivity does really matter with these 2 watt units; more on that in September).

* However, “dealer programming of the MMSI is definitely coming for North American users”, and “The FCC can be expected to take a minimum of 4 months to digest all the comments they are receiving on the latestFurther Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Fourth Memorandum Opinion and Order’” (in .pdf here).

* Which is why Shine isn’t currently predicting “any date for FCC approval of AIS Class B”, but does “like Comar and True Heading, plan on shipping units internationally in late October.”

I searched through that .pdf above, plus the FCC site, for more on this MMSI/Class B business, but without success. Anyone? It might also be interesting to see who has applied for Class B licenses.

Captn. Jack is back, and lookin good

Aug 25, 2006

 CaptnJack garminGPSMAP492_lg

I just got the new Captn. Jack’s catalog, which seems pretty quick given that Maptech just took over the operation a few months ago. The online Captn. Jack’s is also back in business, which means I can link you right through to some of the more interesting offerings:

* The fictional Jack is indeed bundling Maptech Chartbooks with Garmin plotters, as above, including putting all the on-paper waypoints into the plotter. Just the product combinations themselves look like decent deals, the waypoints a very useful bit of frosting. (I’m hoping to try the feature out).

* The Capn software (no previous relation to Captn. Jack, and different spellings retained) has now become CAPN Integra AIS, and there’s some more detail on how Maptech plans to market it. Jack is also selling the U.S. Boating Charts DVD, which I have tried (it’s excellent), both alone and nicely bundled with Memory Map.

* Items that I hadn’t seen before, and want to know more about, include inexpensive Xenarc “High-bright” 8” and 10” monitors, a $100 Emtac Bluetooth SiRF III GPS, and the Faria WatchDog monitoring system/service (w/ WiFi/GPRS Internet service coming!).

Note that Captn. Jack’s is offering free ground shipping and a money back guarantee (though a tight one). Altogether it’s a pretty neat catalog, and probably the one most focused on marine computer navigation, though it still doesn’t thoroughly cover the products available. Isn’t it strange that Captn. Jack’s once offered almost every major ECS except the Maptech ones, and now it features Maptech’s even larger roster but is missing major products like Nobeltec, MaxSea, and RayTech?

Testing the KVH TracVision M3, continued

Aug 24, 2006

KVH install Panbo crop

I’m still thinking, and writing a PMY column, about my TracVision M3 experience. I called Chris Watson, KVH’s Communications Manager, yesterday and wasn’t surprised to learn that the company has two full time technical writers on staff. They’re good too! I just can not imagine a better written or illustrated installation guide (full install image here), not to mention the hole drilling template, list of items shipped (w/photos), receiver user guide, etc. A nearly foolproof installation. In fact, KVH even supplies several extra of the various small fasteners that a fool like me is apt to flick overboard!
   Now I’m not sure how many owners will actually install a $5,000 system like this, though it is an almost-guaranteed satisfying experience. But KVH’s attention to detail could also make it quicker, and hence less expensive, for a pro to install, plus it speaks so well of the company’s style. More evidence is an M3 white paper (available from the M3 product page) that details all the technical innovations required to get a 14.5” dish antenna to perform as well as an 18” one, as shown in the test result graph below. It also lists all the testing this thing went through, which Watson says has resulted in near zero repair issues.
   So what’s wrong with the M3? Well, it only does DirectTV and it will not do High Definition (HD), plus of course you can find stabilized 18” dishes that cost less, especially if you go to a really unknown brand like the SeaSharp SeaVision that was aboard Shanghai Baby. Which I was looking forward to trying…except it was DOI (dead on install). Even if it had worked fine, as the first eight purportedly have, I’d still question the savings. Especially as I’ve seen other small sat TV companies show up at a boat show or two and then vanish. Of course there are several much less expensive, much lower performance, boat TV options (which I’ll discuss later), or the very simple NO-TV choice Andrea and I are tending toward. 
   While I can easily picture cruising without TV (as always), I would like a fast Internet connection. For ‘work’ you know, though I might sometimes enjoy watching, say, Crooks & Liars clips, or YouTube nonsense. Which makes me wonder if a product like KVH’s own TracNet 100, previewed here last winter, and now fully detailed and shipping, will end up competing with TracVision?
 KVH signal comparison

Navman 8120, test impressions #1

Aug 23, 2006

Navman 8120 Camden Harbor Panbo

I like putting chart screens in Course or Track Up mode,  except that sometimes they jump around too much. Illustrated above is a nicety I hadn’t seen before, control over how much your track can vary before the screen turns. In a similar vein, the 8120 also has a neat “Static Navigation” control that let’s you set a SOG number under which the speed always reads 0 and COG doesn’t change. {The picture—by the way, and bigger here—is in a style I’m working to perfect: sharply focused gizmo in foreground, soft marine scene as background. That’s a Fleming 55 and a Midnight Lace back there, both lovelies.}
More 8120 notes:

* A negative 8120 surprise was learning that a NMEA 0183 data-in cable is not included in the box (though it is available, and I’m getting one to see how well this MFD will handle wind and other data out of the Airmar WeatherStation). In fact, 0183 seems to be slighted in favor of Navman’s own NavBus. Thus the 8120 will only plot DSC targets coming from a Navman VHF, which is odd as that’s usually a standard 0183 function.
* Build quality of the these early-off-the-line machines is a tad dicey. The first one I got wouldn’t do video and I had to use a blade to open the map cartridge door.
* While I’m normally a soft key sort of guy (which may be a tester’s bias: I use so many different machines that I like to get led through the command structure), I find the 8120 key set and nested menu structure, with its nice big fonts, quite easy to navigate.
* Shown below is a unique (I think) and very desirable display feature; you can vary what Navman calls the Split Ratios so that windows can be sized individually. 
* So far, then, a few pluses and minuses; but there’s no doubt that the 8120 is a lot MFD for the money. I won’t be able to try the SmartCraft interfacing, but it sure looks good. I will eventually test the built-in sonar (the window below is simulated) and fuel flow support. By the way, there’s a nifty promotion going on, but not much longer: if you buy an 8120, or a TrackFish 6600, before 9/1, you can get a free C-Map Mega card.

Navman 8120 multisize windows Panbo

Navionics fixes ledge, comments on C-Map deal

Aug 22, 2006

Navionics 904G_missing reef

I don’t know if it’s The Panbo Effect in action (grin), but Navionics is now shipping chart cards that include the infamous Burnt Coat Harbor back way ledge. The company also gave me an official comment on the acquisition of C-Map by Boeing:

Navionics welcomes Boeing’s escalated commitment to the marine electronic charting market. No doubt, this will help both the technological and the regulatory part of the business mature and provide a better service to the mariner, ultimately increasing safety of navigation as well as expanding the market.

Mind you that for over 20 years Navionics and C-Map have each been run by their respective Italian founders, Giuseppe Carnevali and Fosco Bianchetti, two gentlemen who were once partners and seemed to compete both enthusiastically and graciously. This is a big change in the little industry the two dominated. It could mean new opportunities for Navionics, or it could be challenging, but I think we can safely translate the statement above into a simpler term — “Game on!