In the previous post, I showed a few images of our new navigation system instruments, and discussed in some detail about the new network based on NMEA 2000 (N2K). Now we are going to talk about some really cool technology benefits to our new system.
B&G GoFree™ ControllerChoosing N2K not only lets us use instruments from a variety of providers, but it opens up the use of the data to a huge variety of applications both on the mobile platforms (tablets, phones) and the desktop/laptop. One of the main reasons we went with Navico (parent company to B&G, Simrad and Lowrance), is their introduction of GoFree™ Wireless. On the surface, it looks like you are “just” buying a 12/24V WIFI access point that provides an interface to your Navico chartplotter and its data. But, it’s much more than that. Here you can see a screenshot of my using the B&G GoFree™ Controller app on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Used in combination with a Zeus Touch chartplotter, like the one we have on Tahina now, you can actually not only see the chartplotter, but actually take control of it with an Android or iOS tablet. So, you can touch and drag the chart plotter, change screens, check on winds, change routes, etc. Awesome! I can also get just a quick view of whatever is currently showing on the chartplotter using the same app on my phone. This screenshot shows the same view on the phone. But, although it looks really pretty here, when scaled down onto a small screen on the phone it’s hard to read small letters and features on the chart. Still, a quick way to check on things while off watch in bed.
The Real PowerWhat really gets exciting with this technology, and the amazing contribution Navico has made by introducing it, is that they have made the GoFree™ application interfaces open – so anyone can develop apps using the interfaces to the system (see comments by Ben at Panbo). Further, the chartplotter can also output the N2K network data into a data port that provides the data as NMEA 0183 (the old format) which most applications still use. You can tap into that through the WIFI access point as well! This means I was able to simply connect to the WIFI, open up OpenCPN (a powerful free navigation software package on desktop OSes – Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux) and make a connection to the data port. Suddenly I had all kinds of data including not only wind, GPS, and waypoints – but also even AIS data and more! Check out this screenshot showing OpenCPN running on Windows XP using VMWare on my Mac (click for a bigger view). (NOTE: I later updated to the new version of OpenCPN 3.3 on my Mac OSX and it works really well too).
I’ve also downloaded and run NavMonPC (another freeware PC app that provides different control instrument views on the data). And, a number of other apps on iOS (iPad/iPhone), reportedly work very well including SeaIQ (by my friend Mark Hayden on s/v Northfork), and the popular iNavX. Some of them (like SeaIQ) show complete AIS data as well. And, with this technology just getting out there, we’re only just seeing the beginning of a new era of more rapid application development for boats.
What it means
On a fundamental level, what this means is that with our new network (which is very energy efficient by the way, meaning we can leave the N2K network and instruments turned on all the time) we can easily check with a phone, tablet, laptop, or any of our built-in displays – to check on weather, winds, etc. We can run anchor alarm apps from a variety of players, we can see charts from proprietary systems, and install free charts as well, and we can also install new virtual apps and instruments as they come out that provide unforeseen new capabilities. I’m keen to try an app I heard about that lets you get text alarm messages on shore when your boat is dragging anchor, or based on other things like if the winds go up.
So, welcome to the new world of more rapid technological advancement on boats! Start considering what to do when your boat gets hit by ligh*cough* *cough*… needs an upgrade.