By Ben Ellison
|Throwing light on black box systems.|
For most of us, the expression black box conjures images of aircraft disasters and the crash-proof technology that records flight data and cockpit conversations so the accident can be analyzed. It’s a brilliant technique for retrieving possibly life-saving information out of tragedy, but I’m pleased to write that it has almost nothing to do with the term black box you’ll see in many marine electronics brochures these days.
Furuno product manager Eric Kunz is widely credited with bringing the black box name to boats and to a certain extent originating the concept. Furuno was having trouble securing a steady supply of displays for its big radar units, and Kunz took it upon himself to go into his shop and mock up a box that contained the processing portion of the system and could feed imagery to a variety of off-the-shelf displays while being controlled by a separate keypad. This would allow Furuno to concentrate on the radar’s guts and let owners shop for a display that suited their particular helm station and wallet. Black Box Radar was born, and its multiple benefits began to show themselves. Today, Furuno has added sounders and sonars to its Black Box line, and other manufacturers like Simrad have begun to offer similar products.
What’s more, "black boxing" has come to refer to a whole new architecture of marine electronics systems, in which all sorts of data is collected and processed by discrete boxes (including PCs) and then fed to an array of flat displays and customized helm controls. You’ll see the results–sleek, balanced "all glass" bridges–in some of the megayachts featured in this issue.
The benefits of black box electronics begin on the practical side, as modular components can mean easier installation and maintenance. Put the box in an electronics locker and cable it to an easy-to-mount flat screen on the bridge. If the box fails, only it needs to go to the shop; the technician may not need to even visit the nav station. If the monitor fails, it can be replaced with a unit from any number of sources, or you can switch to a redundant display.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.