Electronics 2014: Ever more intuitive

Posted on Written by Chris Landry
The glass bridge concept, such as Simrad's NSO evo with 16-inch touch displays, is proving popular on a range of boats.

The glass bridge concept, such as Simrad’s NSO evo with 16-inch touch displays, is proving popular on a range of boats.

The glass bridge, with its huge high-definition multi-touch displays, has dominated the headlines in the world of electronics during the last 12 months. Garmin, Simrad, Raymarine and Furuno all offer some sort of uncluttered expansive grouping of displays for the helm station of today.

“The cruising crowd is lining up for the largest touch-screen monitors that their helms will support,” says David Laska, president of L&L Electronics in Branford, Conn. (llelectronics.com).

The glass bridge’s big screens are a good fit for large yachts but “they’re also proving popular on high-end center consoles, so I’m sure the manufacturers will be bringing their attributes down to smaller screens,” says Ben Ellison, editor and owner of Panbo (panbo.com).

Sonar, radar, autopilot and automatic trim tabs and other technologies that operate within the glass bridge network continue to develop. “The good news is that more people are getting their hands on this equipment with these various technologies,” Laska says.

Pinch-and-zoom ability such as on this Furuno TZtouch unit continues to be a growing trend.

Pinch-and-zoom ability such as on this Furuno TZtouch unit continues to be a growing trend.

Thermal imaging has emerged as another technology that more boaters will have access to, Laska says.

“I have seen some beta thermal imaging technology that has been overlaid in real time onto static navigation charts and radar images,” he says. “It’s cool technology that has roots in the military, which I am sure will eventually make its way into our market segment.”

FLIR Systems Inc. earlier this year launched FLIR One, calling it the first personal thermal imaging device marketed to consumers. Compatible with the iPhone 5 and 5S, the device gloves the phone like a protective case and shows thermal images on the screen.

A worldwide rollout is planned this spring and the iPhone 5 and 5s-compatible FLIR One will be available for less than $350. FLIR One houses its own battery source, which can power the device for two hours of continuous use and can boost iPhone 5 and 5s battery life by as much as 50 percent, according to FLIR.

Partnering for progress

The collaboration of boat, propulsion and electronics companies has emerged as one of the major developments in marine technology integration. Case in point is the recently announced three-player team of Scout Boats, Garmin and Mastervolt.

The announcement at the Miami International Boat Show of their multi-system integration effort drew dozens of spectators in the Miami Beach Convention Center. A boat’s circuits and systems can be monitored and controlled with Garmin’s GPSMap 8000 Glass Helm Series, powered by Mastervolt’s intelligent CZone technology.

“We’ve partnered with Mastervolt, which is the leader in digital switching, and Scout is one of the most elite brands on the market,” says David Dunn, Garmin’s senior manager for marine sales and marketing.

FLIR Systems earlier this year launched FLIR One, calling it the first personal thermal imaging device marketed to consumers.

FLIR Systems earlier this year launched FLIR One, calling it the first personal thermal imaging device marketed to consumers.

Redundancies in the system and user-friendly alerts provide added confidence while at sea, says Scout Boats president Steve Potts.

“It’s intuitive. It’s redundant. It’s a very reliable system,” Potts said during the press introduction. “I really think this is going to be a game-changer. With boats, especially the type of boats that Scout builds, which is offshore boats, there has to be a sense of confidence that no matter what happens, I am going to be safe. When you are running offshore the … redundancy has to be there.”

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Potts says the innovation is probably the “biggest we’ve ever done” and that using digital technology “is something that is past time and our industry needs to embrace it.”

One of Mastervolt’s goals is to bring boating into the digital age, says G.R. Schrotenboer, the company’s global marine and mobile business leader.

“You have to make things simple,” he says. “Boating families can enjoy worry-free turn-key operation. Our CZone technology offers the kind of intuitive operation that is common in one’s home or car — complete control of the vessel’s environment.”

And that control comes via touch screen, tablet or key fob for the operation of everything from bilge pumps to stereos to live wells to LED navigational and deck lighting.

Integrating systems

Electronics companies are making sure that propulsion and piloting systems can talk to their products. Andy Teich, the CEO of FLIR, which owns Raymarine, says integration “is critically important to us because we realize the control of propulsion and steering systems is important. We have two big advances toward this: the introduction of the Raymarine Evolution autopilot, and the other area is on our engine control device, the ECI-100, which takes the data from the engine and allows it to be displayed on your MFD. It interprets the messages from Volvo and Yamaha and various other engines. It also taps into the drive-by-wire steering systems.”

The integration of propulsion and navigation technologies took another major step forward when Mercury announced at the Miami International Boat Show its partnership with Simrad to bring “glass dash” systems to market.

“We are very happy to be working with Simrad to deliver a state-of-the-art system that is fully integrated into all of the engine diagnostics,” Mercury president of global sales and marketing Kevin Grodzki said at the press introduction.

Mercury’s VesselView 4 and VesselView 7 will work with Simrad multifunction touch-screen systems to deliver such information as sonar, radar and Mercury’s Smart Tow, cruise control and Eco Control functions, Grodzki says. The system will be available in the second quarter of this year for compatible Simrad displays.

Sonar and radar have reached new technological highs, with electronics companies racing to produce the most advanced, accurate systems showing highly defined structures below and above the surface.

Garmin set its sights on sport anglers with the GSD 26 black-box sonar.

Garmin set its sights on sport anglers with the GSD 26 black-box sonar.

Lowrance, one of the Navico brands, offers a technology called SpotLightScan. “It allows you to move a transducer mounted on a trolling motor and actually look at different segments of the water,” says Louis Chemi, Navico executive vice president and chief operating officer.

For 3D sonar imaging, Garmin recently released a module (GCV-10) capable of down-view and side-scan view. It’s compatible with their smaller MFD systems.

Boaters will continue to hear about such sonar advancements as CHIRP — compressed high-intensity radar pulse. Instead of one frequency, 50 or 200kHz, CHIRP uses a broadband of frequencies and therefore delivers a wider range of information, resulting in a better image with more “structure separation.”

“The hot seller this season seems to be CHIRP video sounders for the recreational crowd that fishes and, or including, 3-D sonar imaging products from Raymarine and Simrad,” says Laska.

Autopilot technology

Advances in autopilot technology also are steering new sales into Laska’s showroom.

The latest advancement of Raymarine’s Evolution Autopilot is an add-on technology called Hydrobalance. “It’s a software release available to every customer with an Evolution Autopilot and is fitted to a hydraulically steered boat — hence the name Hydrobalance,” says Ian Matt, global product manager for Raymarine autopilots and system integration.

Hydrobalance uses a mathematical model to compensate for the inaccuracies of an autopilot system tied in to the hydraulic steering system of an outboard boat, Matt says.

The technology allows the boat to compensate for prop walking and the “snaking” course that occurs at trolling speeds with outboards, Matt says. It also allows the boat to hold course when it encounters large wakes or in heavy seas.

Broadband radar delivers improved short-range target discrimination, compared with conventional radar, using a continuous transmission wave with linear increasing frequency. Transmitting power and range also have improved with this technology.

“Broadband radar’s sweet spot is under 1 nautical mile, all the way down in scale to under 100 feet,” Laska says.

And we will soon see more development of forward-facing sonar:

“Every year we hold out for the promise of forward-looking sonar,” Laska says. “With Garmin’s purchase last year of Interphase Technology Co. and the recent release of a side-view sonar product, maybe forward sonar is not too far off.”

Touch-screen MFDs certainly represent the latest in navigation technology and user-friendliness, but they have their limitations — for example, if they’re exposed to weather or if the skipper is operating in conditions where it might be difficult to tap, touch or pinch-to-zoom. Most models also incorporate a module for manual control using buttons, knobs and switches.

Teich cites two circumstances in which conventional dials and switches and buttons are better than touch screens. “When you get a touch screen wet, they don’t perform well, so in an outdoor setting in adverse weather you can get into a bind with a touch screen that starts acting goofy. The other is when you’re in rough water — it’s pretty difficult to deal with a touch screen. Raymarine has HybridTouch, where you have both touch screen and knob control.”

Automatic trim-tab systems also seem to be ramping up. In 2013 Volvo Penta introduced the Interceptor automatic trim mechanism (by Humphree), which uses vertically mounted trim tabs to generate lift and drag so the skipper can control the boat’s attitude in all directions and at virtually all speeds. The lower portion of the blades extends and retracts automatically — together or independently — to change the boat’s position.

Other companies also offer automatic trim-tab systems. Lenco’s is the Auto Glide Boat Leveling System (lencomarine.com).

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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