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Helm of the Future

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LAS VEGAS — As impressive as the Sea Ray SLX-400e display is at the Consumer Electronics Show, for industrial designers in attendance, the attention is on Sea Ray’s vision for the helm of the future.

On Tuesday, a steady stream of onlookers from various electronics-related fields queued up for a turn at this hands-on experience, which is part of the Brunswick Technology booth at CES.

A 34-inch ultra-wide beveled screen is the focal point of the helm, with a joystick and throttle and shift controls to the skipper’s right. At a show where video is king, Sea Ray came to play.

Every aspect of a boat’s systems, navigation tools, audio, radar, even text messaging has a place on the screen, but the readouts only appear when necessary or at your command. The content is intuitive. If a squall is ahead in a plot line, the autopilot and chart offer an alternate course. Daily notices to mariners warn of obstacles in channels. Looking for a restaurant along the ICW? Simply ask.

Brunswick’s helm of the future includes a 34-inch display that will present a variety of information and functionality.

Brunswick’s helm of the future includes a 34-inch display that will present a variety of information and functionality.

“We wanted to focus more on the future with a purposeful intent of getting away from the approach of arranging two flat-screen monitors surrounded by two dozen separate gauges and a cluster of other cutouts for rocker and toggle switches,” said Charlie Foss, design director for the Brunswick Boat Group Technology Center.

“We are adding speech and gesture recognition, a critical element since we often point and gesture [on board], Foss added.

Foss was joined by Todd Dannenberg, Mercury’s director of industrial design, in this collaborative effort, which more closely parallels the aviation experience than automotive or marine.

“We had months of discussion on how to please the ‘salty’ customer while delivering what new customers have come to expect with industrial design in their daily life,” Dannenberg said.

He pointed to smartphone use as an example of intuitive design that has become second nature to users. And tech-savvy users often discover smartphone features the average user will not.

“For that reason, we’re building in layers for that deep dive experience, for the skipper who feels more comfortable knowing he can monitor every readout of a boat’s systems,” Dannenberg said. “At the same, time we’ve simplified the boating experience with this helm.

“Like a digital butler, the information pops up on the screen only when you need it and quickly fades away when you don’t,” Dannenberg added, demonstrating a collision-avoidance feature.

“Our research in marine customers, and with colleagues outside the industry, indicates that a clean, simplistic view of what customers expect in terms of technology will bring more people into boating. This helm delivers that experience,” Foss said.

Brunswick has a five-year target for bringing the helm to market.

Autonomous driving also is big at this year’s CES. For example, Honda is displaying an Augmented Driving Concept coupe with 5G and sensors that work in concert with the car and smart cities.

With autonomous boating, smart waterways are probably decades away, and one of the challenges would be that all vessels would require smart integration to work together. Brunswick expects to be a leader with that technology as it develops.

“That’s why we invested heavily in debuting the Sea Ray SLX-400e here at the show,” said Brunswick CEO David Foulkes. “CES is the center for disruptive technology for the next week. It brings together engineers, technologists and innovators from many industries with the common aim of applying technology to enhance experiences. We’re eager to get feedback on the futurist helm and find partners who share our vision in redefining the marine experience.”

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