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Battlefield Strength Laser…

Last year wired.com reported “Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time — paving the way for energy weapons to go to war. In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser — past the “100kW threshold that has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for ‘weapons grade’ power levels for high-energy lasers,” Northrop’s vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement. That much power won’t get you a Star Wars-style blaster. But it should be more than enough to zap the mortars and rockets that insurgents have used to pound American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

100 kilowatts of piercing light isn’t something to sneeze at, even fired for just a few seconds, but Northrup Grumman’s long-awaited weapons-grade laser recently ran for a full 10 minutes. That milestone is the feather in the company’s cap as it prepares to ship the hulking machine to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where it will presumably begin doing what it does best — turning things into crispier, more exploded versions of themselves in no time flat.

Well a year later and The Office of Naval Research and their industry partner Northrop Grumman successfully disable a small target vessel using a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL), mounted onto the deck of the Navy’s self-defence test ship, the former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

Northrop Grumman designed and built the MLD for the Office of Naval Research, leveraging a laser built by Northrop Grumman for the US Army Space and Missile Defence Command /Army Forces Strategic Command and the High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office.

Open ocean tests were conducted between October 2010 and April 2011 at the Pacific Ocean Test Range near San Nicolas Island off the Central California coast. For these tests, the laser system was installed on the Navy’s Self Defence Test Ship, the USS Paul Foster.

This is obviously good news for the pirate infested waters off the coast of Somalia.…come to think of it, is this the first sign of a useful gadget for Raymarine to come up with for our yachts? ….oh yes…this would make crossing the Traffic Separation Zone in the English Channel just a little more interesting!

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Fugawi breaks away from the crowd…

For some time Fugawi has produced a perfectly good piece of navigation software Fugawi ENC. I must confess I have not had time to review it in detail, so much time was spent with my 7 part optimal routing series last year and with testing MaxSea TZ in action.

Who owns Fugawi? – well in January, software manufacturer Northport Systems that owns Fugawi and X-Traverse.com (the online chart subscription service) announced that its president, Robin Martel, had acquired the company. Robin Martel took over as the owner of Northport after having joined business development manager in 2002. He became the company's president three years later. Prior to joining Northport Systems, Martel co-founded and led New Zealand-based GPS Control Ltd., working as its managing director and technical manager; held directorial positions with Pico Data Ltd. and Expressway Group Ltd.; and was the marketing manager, sales engineer and IT manager for Geo-Systems Ltd.

Northport Systems began operations fifteen years ago. Its first product was the affordable Fugawi-brand mapping software for GPS receivers, which allowed customers to scan and calibrate their own map images for use with early GPS handheld devices. The company has since expanded both its customer and product base, and now offers a selection of GPS-related software products for land, marine, commercial and military applications; as well as an extensive line of digital maps and charts for regions throughout the world that are available for instant download from X-Traverse.com to a wide variety of PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. With its desktop, mobile and web-based navigation and mapping software products and services, available under the Fugawi, X-Traverse and third party brands in over 130 countries, Northport Systems enjoys a worldwide reputation as a leader in GPS mapping software and innovative GPS applications.

Structure_FugawiHandheld/Mobile Device Expertise – So Northport/Fugawi has a great track record in getting digital charts and charting software on to a very large variety of GPS enabled handheld devices and smartphones. Its X-Traverse.com is a web service that allows you to transfer your digital map data and personal Waypoint, Routes, Tracks and POI to and from your PC, iPhone, and other mobile devices.

Northport/Fugawi have already proved their skill with the excellent $129 NavPlanner2 which is bundled with Navionics Gold charts of the entire U.S. plus the Northern Bahamas, and a Navionics card reader.  The software also has GRIB weather file overlay facilities and it includes even more U.S. freshwater data than HotMaps (17,000 U.S. lakes on a $20 DVD!), with all of Navionics High Definition lake surveys. This is a great planning tool from which you can transfer routes to most your plotter using cable, card, or Internet.  NavPlanner2 supports Waypoint, Route and Track transfer export to: GPX, Google Earth (KML or KMZ), ESRI ShapeFile, Fugawi or ASCII Text.

It is also compatible with MuskokaTech's PathAway GPS Software for Windows® Mobile and Nokia/Symbian operating systems. It can be used with Fugawi's X-Traverse to transfer data online with iNavX or iMap on an iPhone or iPad, Facebook, and more. All the transfers are two way so you can use NavPlanner2 to collect and enjoy tracks you made on all sorts of devices.

Strategy – So following the thread I began about strategic trends in marine electronics and the posting about the structure of modern chart plotting software which looked at the products coming from the Furuno/Signet stable (MaxSea TZ and Nobeltec Trident) – its seems perfectly sensible that Robin Martel should be talking to these guys about joining forces.

Now please note I have no idea if Robin is doing thisBUT I would be delighted if Northport would bring their the undoubted expertise in the mobile arena, and the brilliant glass bridge AVIA series of products, into the fold.

The North Vancouver based Avia Design Group Inc. is the producer of the Avia Sail and Avia Motor line of virtual instrumentation products for NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000® networks. And Northport appear to have an exclusive distribution agreement for this product line.

Of course as the diagram illustrates there is nothing to stop you doing this right now. All the elements of the software and hardware interfaces are on the market right now and all will work together using the important glue of X-Traverse.com at the software/data level, and Actisense at the hardware level.

In the meantime Garmin, who is pretty much a go it alone type of company building their whole stack of products from the hardware upwards, is going to have their work cut out. As for poor old Raymarine – well readers of my previous postings know what I think of their strategic thinking! – as I have said before, good luck FLIR !

In my next post I will look at the Fugawi AVIA product line – very exciting, and its not just a pretty face!

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Furuno/Signet get it right…

Following on from my previous post on the growing monopoly power in the marine electronics industry and its impact on consumer choice I though I would illustrate my arguments using the excellent new releases from the Furuno/Signet empire.

Firstly, make no mistake the Furuno/Signet empire is going to make a very significant impact on the marine industry, and I think in the short to medium term at least this will be a good thing judging by the quality of their strategic thinking and their product launches so far.

Last year MaxSea launched the brilliant TimeZero software that I reviewed extensively in my 7 part series on Optimal Routing. Now (February 2011) Nobeltec has released its Trident software. Two product launches from two different companies that have loyal and extensive customer bases. You may recall that the Nobeltec customer base was irate and despondent when Nobeltec was sold off by Jeppesen in 2009 to Signet – they thought that was the end – but it was not so. The Furuno-Signet team are smart! Instead of alienating thousands of customers they have wowed them all with two brilliant bits of software….and by doing this by re-using fundamental components much like the big car manufacturers do. This technique means that products can be made with greater standardisation and therefore reliability, be enhanced more easily, and produce greater return on investment thereby attracting increased future investment.

Structure_1So it looks like the design of a modern chart plotting software systems should look something like this:

At the time of the release of the Nobeltec Trident software in February there were dozens of press releases being repeated all over the blogosphere and marine industry mags that went on and on about this feature and that feature.

Take this quote from Nobeltec PR ”…Trident will be the most dynamic, cutting-edge PC-based navigation software available. Built on the innovative TimeZero chart engine, Trident offers a completely new, sophisticated user interface designed to be extremely intuitive and easy to use. The chart engine redraws charts seamlessly allowing users to easily zoom, pan, change chart display modes, and perform other chart handling functions without limited range presets. Users can choose to pan and zoom the chart to any angle at any range scale instantly. There is no limited "3D mode" because Nobeltec TimeZero Trident operates in a true 3D environment at all times….” etc etc…

I am sure you can all remember the press releases for MaxSea TZ from 2008/9….Doesn’t this sound exactly the same? There is a reason for that.

Structure_Nobeltec

Structure_MaxSea

All the features listed are the exactly the same because they all come from the same library of software functions that the excellent developers at Signet (MaxSea) are responsible for – presumably under the watchful eye of Brice Pryzo.

Only the user interface is different. This should pacify the loyal customer bases of Nobeltec and MaxSea while allowing innovation from the competing development teams at MaxSea and Nobeltec. The user interface can diverge and have different novel ideas added while maintaining a high degree of reliability and maintainability through the use of the same fundamental software libraries. In fact when you install MaxSea TZ on a PC – and I guess the same is true of Nobeltec Trident – you also install a heck of a lot of Microsoft database software and other Microsoft support libraries too – many Gb’s in fact! so make sure you have plenty of disc space. This is the way to make critical software more reliable and yet to allow for developers to innovate with the user interface. This is a great strategy.

Yes I do know that MaxSea has other software on the market at the same time (Navigator; Racing PRO; X7; Commander; Explorer; Professional) and so does Nobeltec (Nobeltec VNS and Nobeltec v12). Well there is plenty of room for all these products and one will suit a particular sailor more than another.

For me it has to be software based on the TimeZero technology however. Having used it extensively last year on sail yacht; power boat; and a 55ft steel coaster sailing from Liverpool to Lowestoft, I do think it is far more friendly, and the ability to instantly switch between vector and raster charts is fantastic.

I am convinced that this is the technology strategy that will win the day ….. it is so reminiscent of Windows v CPM from the 1980’s PC industry – no contest.

Now what I would like to see is Fugawi joining forces – and bringing its X-Traverse and Avia Instrument Interface into the game…now that really would be a basis for some fantastic products!

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Glass bridge or Glass House?

When you look at the recent product launches of companies such as Navico, Flir, Garmin, Furuno and Signet SA Group, its fun to try and pick out their strategic intentions. Keep in mind that Flir own Raymarine, and Furuno Electric Company is a significant shareholder of Signet S.A. who in turn own MaxSea, Nobeltec, and Mapmedia. Navico own the B&G, Eagle, Northstar, Lowrance, and Simrad brands! Jeppesen is a subsidiary of Boeing Commercial Aviation Services and sold Nobeltec to Signet a couple of years ago and appears now to concentrate on its C-Map chart development

We appear to be edging ever closer towards a complete glass bridge system – even on sailing boats. This concept not only means that instruments can be portrayed in a myriad of forms; combined with each other in a myriad of ways; but they can be displayed on any device that will accept the NMEA2000 protocol and run the appropriate software – so that means flat panel displays; handheld devices like iPads; smartphone like iPhone or Android based phones – and who knows what next – all sharing data in real time!

The glass bridge concept also allows the integration of disparate systems such as navigation instruments and data; fishfinding data; other instrumentation such as engine data; multimedia entertainment; and onboard cameras and even internet browsing/email and so on.

One essential prerequisite for the concept to work is fast data networking, and so the marine industry has, as you know, started to implement the Ethernet standard for networking and leave the old NMEA0183 behind. Well, as you probably also know, the certain marine suppliers have been up to their old tricks and have decided to implement non standard versions of NMEA2000 – sigh.

Lets pretend for a moment that NMEA2000 is implemented well. Then being able to share data between devices like iPhones and Chart Plotters and engine monitors should be as easy as plugging in a cable and installing the appropriate device driver – as you would on your laptop with a USB device – and we all know that that always works too!

GlassBridge_Strategy

 

So what we have here is a wonderful concept – but, the suppliers are all determined to provide their own fully integrated portfolios of hardware, cabling/connectors, interfaces, and software so that there is as little chance of interoperability as possible.

 

I don’t hold out much hope that the marine industry will ever agree on, and maintain standards – why should they? That would only reduce their market share and increase competition.

This was exactly the position in the PC market place in the 80’s,  before Microsoft really started to wield monopoly power and, as an unintended consequence of their actions, brought some degree of standardisation to the PC industry – I said “some” Smile

I thought I would try and represent the supply chain and the real companies behind the product developments that we are seeing:

As you can see and IMHO, there are relatively few companies that really control the trends and the innovation in the marine electronics market place. The multiplicity of brands will continue simply to give the poor boater the feeling that there is real choice.

The recent announcement that Nobeltec’s Trident software is based on TimeZero technology – the same technology that is the foundation of MaxSea software – shows how their holding company can squeeze as much competitive advantage as they  can from their innovation. Who can blame them for that.

Let’s just hope that we don’t end up with a Microsoft of the marine business – the promise would be components that all fit and work harmoniously together – the reality may be quite different…CTRL-ALT-DEL Smile

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Cordless Canoe Challenge..

imageIf you are in the UK you may well have been stopped from getting on with the odd jobs list on your boat by the horrible weather. Well here is something you may like to consider … why not enter the Water Craft Cordless Canoe Challenge which will see competitors racing canoes powered only by old power tools!

Inspired by a suggestion from Donna Hatchett, the Beale Park Marketing Manager and with the support of Makita, the leading manufacturer of power tools and the Electric Boat Association …“The plan is to encourage amateur and professional hobbyist boat builders to gather together all those discarded old cordless tools and with a bit of ingenuity, if not persuasion, invent a craft that is capable of completing the course in record time,” says Kevin Brannigan, Marketing Manager at Makita UK.

Competitors must take a canoe, which you are welcome to build yourself, and propel it solely through the use of power tools! Provided they remain under 5m inimage length, crafts can be modified in any way you like. Suggestions include using a drill to drive a prop shaft or a Thai-style long-tail rig. Or how about Jigsaws that waggle diving flippers seal-style, or an angle grinder with fan attachment?

To make the whole Challenge more about invention than buying power, the cordless tools must use the batteries they were supplied with – we’ll provide recharging facilities between races – and their total equivalent new value should not be more than £400. Some readers will be regular viewers of Scrapheap Challenge on TV. Others may have visited Power Tool Drag Racing. I should stress right here that our Cordless Canoe Challenge will have few similarities with either. Our primary aim is to avoid the horrendous health and safety issues of a testosterone-fuelled phalanx of badly controlled craft rampaging between other boats on the lake. Ours will be a much more relaxed event, more like the electric equivalent of the umbrella skiff races at the Trad Boat Rally. Thus we propose a knockout tournament between pairs of boats drawn by lot. Their course will likely be an out-and-back dogleg around two buoys, with some hopefully exciting action around the turning mark right in front of the beer tent. This turning mark will necessitate entrants being able to slow their boat down and make a proper steering system essential…

This competition is sponsored by Makita and takes place on 10-12th June at this year’s Beale Park Boat show at Reading, UK.

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