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Old 02-23-2016, 10:17 AM   #1
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Modern system architecture

I'm looking to understand how the pieces of nav/sensor systems fit together today. Not bleeding-edge but current, solid offerings.

For background I've got what was probably a common setup 10 years ago: Two Raymarine MFDs (E80), analog radar, and an AP connected via Seatalk. A couple 0183 sources send data to this network (depth, AIS) and the VHF gets GPS data over 0183. The system works fine and is sufficient for our current needs.

In this environment the MFDs do two things:
  • They display data (charts, gps, radar, etc).
  • They control things (the radar, the AP).
I know I could plug a PC-based system (CE, OpenCPN) into this system and display some information (charts, gps). I believe that a PC-based system would fall far short of an MFD in this system in that it couldn't display the radar and would be very limited in its ability to control anything. (Not to say these systems don't have advantages of their own.)

Assuming the above is correct is that still how the new offerings from vendors work? Is the preferred architecture today still:
  • Mostly proprietary hardware.
  • Some add-ons, maybe PC-based or tablet, that offer some level of interaction?
Or is it possible to build a well-integrated system from different pieces from different vendors? For example, no MFDs at all but instead PCs with large monitors?

This is intended as a fairly high-level question. I have no doubts that there are lots of devils in the details of any implementation.
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Old 02-23-2016, 11:17 AM   #2
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Old 02-23-2016, 11:20 AM   #3
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Old 02-23-2016, 11:23 AM   #4
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D

Some very smart people are on TF to address this question. I'm not one. But I can tell you that my Nobeltec Trident laptop based program ties into the Furuno NN 3 data, Simrad AP, Maretron backbone etc equipment displaying and controlling all quite handily.

Mixing these systems, believing supplier sales pitches and trying to integrate can lead to difficulties. A few years ago I was looking at buying a vessel where not one MFD could be found. All Nobeltec stuff tied into two dedicated ship board computers.

But what are MFDs? To my simple eye nothing more than rugged waterproof computers that are poor at internet surfing and playing solitaire.

On large yacht bridges MFDs are less common relying more upon computers or hard wired non screen MFDs if you will. On large ship bridges an MFD is uncommon with most functions integrated through computers.

Our vessel is with several redundant systems to the point that we can find our way provided the 12 v systems are still up. I read about a cruise ship that when all power was lost they broke out the sextant. Oh for just one Garmin MFD onboard!
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Old 02-23-2016, 11:59 AM   #5
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What you have currently is pretty much the same as how many new nav systems would be built. A few things have evolved, e.g. digital radar, but that's not significant in the context you are asking. It's also possible to replace all those 0183 connections with a NMEA 2000 bus, but that can be problematic is the system grows beyond a very basic setup.

The proprietary lock-in points remain the same:

1) Radar overlay on charts is proprietary, so the only way to overlay Raymarine radar is on a Raymarine MFD. The same is true for Furuno, Garmin, Simrad, etc., with a few exceptions.

1a) MaxSea PC software (the same thing now as Nobletech) can overlay Furuno radar. It is still proprietary, but works because MaxSea is in close partnership with Furuno, is half owned by Furuno, and is the software that runs on the NN3D and TZTouch chart plotters. It's all one happy, proprietary family.

1b) Some products have hacked/reverse engineered the Simrad digital radars and can overlay them on charts. I think OpenCPM is one of them, and it might be available as a bootleg feature on Coastal Explorer. But it just overlays the raw radar return. ARPA, for example, doesn't work so you lose that feature.

1c) Some other exceptions exist where there are licensed connections between chart displays and radars. For example, RosePoints ECS product has an optional interface box that links Furuno and a few other radars to RosePoint ECS. But that's outside the scope of what most or all of us use.

2) Another proprietary lock-in point is control of radars and autopilots from the MFD. Things like changing the radar range, operating EBLs or VRMs, acquiring ARPA targets, setting gain and rain rejection, can only be done between same-vendor products. Similarly, autopilot configuration, tuning, enabling and disabling, and other advanced features can only be done between same-vendor products. But this DOES NOT include having an auto pilot follow a route on a chart plotter. That's done using standard communications and in my experience any pilot can follow a route on any chart plotter.

3) The other proprietary lock-in point is the display of fish finder echo returns. I think these are all same-vendor only, and I don't know of any exceptions. Simply the depth is conveyed via a standard interface and can be displayed by anyone, but the more detailed echo return that maps the water column is proprietary.

That said, there are still some very satisfactory ways (in my opinion) to integrate different vendor and/or dedicated devices. I recently did a blog post on how to integrate a dedicated radar with Coastal Explorer so that radar ARPA targets are mapped on Coastal Explorer. It's all done using standard interfaces.

I personally struggled with the whole question of single-vendor, proprietary, integrated system vs multi-vendor, standard interfacing, dedicated instruments. Here's another blog entry of my confused musings on the subject .

The fundamental problem with the single-vendor integrated systems is that it's all or nothing, and the whole system is only as good as it's worst component. And because it's all or nothing, you are very likely to tolerate and suffer through the worst component because you can't replace it without replacing everything. On our trawler I ended up with dedicated devices, integrated using standard interfaces, and couldn't be happier. But we also have a small open boat and on that I'm doing a small, integrated system. So one answer doesn't fit all.
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Old 02-23-2016, 01:35 PM   #6
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Peter, could it be said you do not rely upon an MFD for your N60 systems?
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Old 02-23-2016, 01:47 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sunchaser View Post
Peter, could it be said you do not rely upon an MFD for your N60 systems?
That's correct. No MFD or Black box. All components are dedicated to their task, and "integrated" using standard interfaces and communications. The components are:

Coastal Explored on a MacMini
Furuno FAR2117 12kw Radar
Furuno 1835 4kw Radar
Furuno NavPilot (two of them, though only one runs at any given time)
N2K Sat compass/heading
N2K GPS (secondary GPS source)
N2K & 0183 rate compass (secondary heading source)
N2K Weather station
N2K depth/temp sensor
Furuno fish finder with 0183 depth and temp
Comnav Class A AIS with 0183 feeds to both radars and to CE.
2 VHFs, one on N2K and the other on 0183. They confuse each other and other devices if they are both on N2K.

Any component can be replaced with a similar device from a variety of manufacturers and the whole system would still work the same.
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Old 02-23-2016, 02:23 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by sunchaser View Post
But I can tell you that my Nobeltec Trident laptop based program ties into the Furuno NN 3 data, Simrad AP, Maretron backbone etc equipment displaying and controlling all quite handily.
I'm not familiar with NN3. Does that also support both controlling and viewing your radar(s)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sunchaser View Post
But what are MFDs? To my simple eye nothing more than rugged waterproof computers that are poor at internet surfing and playing solitaire.
..and that don't require Windows updates or anti-virus software or.. and hopefully have more stable software.

I agree from a hardware perspective there is no difference. The value in my mind is access to the full-function software.
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Old 02-23-2016, 02:32 PM   #9
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I personally struggled with the whole question of single-vendor, proprietary, integrated system vs multi-vendor, standard interfacing, dedicated instruments. Here's another blog entry of my confused musings on the subject .
Peter,

I was hoping you'd chime in - and thanks for the informative answer. I've been following your blog but your post here gives me some good context for that information.

I now 'get' the idea of segregating the radars with their own display. As I read it once that happens integrating the rest of the world is a much easier undertaking.

I'll have to work to get more experience with my basic setup to see how comfortable I am giving up the overlay functionality.
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Old 02-23-2016, 02:38 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by danderer View Post
I'm not familiar with NN3. Does that also support both controlling and viewing your radar(s)?



..and that don't require Windows updates or anti-virus software or.. and hopefully have more stable software.

I agree from a hardware perspective there is no difference. The value in my mind is access to the full-function software.
NN3 indeed controls and views radar, DDFI, Sirius weather, AIS etc , but same is largely possible on laptop based Trident when tied to NN3. But we don't often use it that way primarily because NN3 screen is so superior.

Our two nav dedicated shipboard laptops never see the internet except for charting updates. The older one (XP) now in its tenth year has never had a virus and remains fast and friendly. We do not update Windows programs on the nav computers, intentionally so - since we are off line no need. I am currently wrestling with updating from W7 to W10 on one year old laptop. No need at this time but ??.
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Old 02-23-2016, 05:09 PM   #11
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I'll have to work to get more experience with my basic setup to see how comfortable I am giving up the overlay functionality.
It's uncomfortable at first, and you will probably want to turn overlay back on. At least that was the case with me. But make yourself run with them separate for a while, and practice picking out things on the radar image and correlating them to your chart and what you see out the window.

I found overlay to be like a crutch; seemingly essential, hard to get rid of, but ultimately limiting and confining.
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Old 05-21-2016, 10:56 AM   #12
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It's uncomfortable at first, and you will probably want to turn overlay back on. At least that was the case with me. But make yourself run with them separate for a while, and practice picking out things on the radar image and correlating them to your chart and what you see out the window.
I've been running with the raw radar data and the chart (with no overlay) displayed side-by-side. Been trying this out both day and night. I really like it.

Displaying the radar as an overlay causes a lot of fine data to get lost (at least for me). Correlating the two displays just isn't that big a deal.

Color me a convert.
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Old 05-21-2016, 01:04 PM   #13
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I've been running with the raw radar data and the chart (with no overlay) displayed side-by-side. Been trying this out both day and night. I really like it.

Displaying the radar as an overlay causes a lot of fine data to get lost (at least for me). Correlating the two displays just isn't that big a deal.

Color me a convert.
Welcome to the other side....

Do you also have ARPA targets showing up on your chart plotter?
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Old 05-21-2016, 01:12 PM   #14
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Do you also have ARPA targets showing up on your chart plotter?
Given that I'm really just showing two displays on an MFD right now I can get APRA on the chart and AIS on the radar.

Now in a system running CE as the main display with a separate radar, would either of those be possible? Not clear at this point if I would care about these capabilities or not--just curious.
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Old 05-21-2016, 03:51 PM   #15
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I went the simple route. Radar is just that. Bottom machine is just that. Chart plotters, one PC and one Furuno, also stand alone. Trying to integrate all this stuff just seems to create headaches. Only things tied together are one plotter and the AP for Nav function. Which I never seem to use.
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Old 05-21-2016, 04:42 PM   #16
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Given that I'm really just showing two displays on an MFD right now I can get APRA on the chart and AIS on the radar.

Now in a system running CE as the main display with a separate radar, would either of those be possible? Not clear at this point if I would care about these capabilities or not--just curious.
I'm not familiar with Raymarine, but at a minimum I would expect AIS targets to show on both the chart and radar windows. And I would expect ARPA targets to to show on both windows too. There might be settings to enable what to display in each window.
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Old 05-21-2016, 05:39 PM   #17
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I'm not familiar with Raymarine, but at a minimum I would expect AIS targets to show on both the chart and radar windows. And I would expect ARPA targets to to show on both windows too. There might be settings to enable what to display in each window.
Yup, indeed there are. My question was more general: Given a system built around a PC with Coastal Explorer (in place of an MFD) and a standalone radar with it's own display, what level of communication between them for AIS and ARPA targets can one expect today?

Hmm. Should have reread your blog before asking this. You address this point directly and clearly show that exchanging these targets can work on both ends.
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