By Ben Ellison
Plug Prayers Answered
|Part 2: I’m convinced that Maretron and all the companies with 2000 gear shipping or about to ship are making smart bets.|
Some words are also in order here regarding little-known Maretron. I think these guys are the angels of NMEA 2000. As I’ve written before (see “Chicken and Eggs,” August 2003, and “Gold Rush,” January 2005), it’s been a bit mystifying to watch the major electronics manufacturers develop a sort of push-me, pull-you relationship with the powerful open-data standard that they, in fact, cooperatively developed. (Of course, they’re also busy with other projects.) We got delayed adoption, multiple names for the same darn protocol, nonstandard cables used within brand families, and other confusions.
While these issues seem to be passing, as I happily experienced, I’m not sure where we’d be if Maretron hadn’t appeared in 2003 with the focused goal of producing 2000 sensors that would play strictly by the rules and hopefully with lots of other manufacturers’ stuff. In fact, principals Rich Gauer and Frank Emmett are engineer-entrepreneurs who already knew the failsafe CANbus network architecture on which the 2000 marine messaging standard sits. Gauer, a boater with his own system designs for a world cruiser gathering dust in a drawer, watched as 2000 hatched. First he was delighted with the CANbus choice, then the decision to adopt the rugged “DeviceNet” cabling standard, also well proven in critical environments.
These developments coincided with a decision made by Gauer and Emmett to downsize their business designing microchips for automotive CANbus systems. Every DaimlerChrysler vehicle on the road, in fact, is already using their products to manage its engine and transmission. That’s a good thing for us, as the microchips begat money chips that the pair have now stacked on the marine-electronics table!
But the game has not gone according to plan. They’d envisioned early semiretirement developing a few cool sensors to play with all the other 2000 gear that would surely bloom from such a fertile open standard. Instead they find themselves “quite busy” being perhaps 2000’s most visible evangelists, with the most products and a Web site (www.maretron.com) that’s more informative than NMEA’s. A year ago they hired Larry Anderson, who ran the 2000 development process (see “Standards Are Our Friends,” November 2002), as national sales manager. “Apparently halfway is not in my nature,” sighs Gauer.
I’m convinced that Maretron and all the companies with 2000 gear shipping or about to ship are making smart bets. Besides conducting my testing, I attended a ConnectFest event put on by NMEA at the Miami International Boat Show. Equipment from 14 manufacturers, including Yanmar, Volvo Penta, and Xantrex—was all networked into one trunk. I swear you could see the lightbulbs clicking on over gawkers’ heads—“gauges on my plotter!,” “best-of-breed nav station!,” “automated generator control!,” “half the damn wires!,” and so forth. Apparently there’s more to come, like a power-switching system for lights, pumps, etc. that will further simplify wiring and enable nifty programming like smart bilge alarms.
Are there other ways to similar ends? You bet. Brunswick’s SmartCraft is the CANbus network most like 2000. While it’s not designed to be a truly open standard, there is an argument that having one company (and one system device) as “king” can lead to a more peaceful network community. Innovative, if proprietary, networking schemes like BlueNet (this page) and ePlex (page 42) continue to surface. Sorry, the infinite possibilities of marine electronics will probably always trump easy answers.
But I’ll say this. If I were fitting out a new boat or refitting an old one, there’d be a NMEA 2000 trunk running through her, and I’d be looking at electronics, engines, and whatever other systems could take good advantage of it. (Okay, there’d likely be Ethernet, WiFi, and maybe other networks, too.) In the meantime, Maretron is going to have to wait to get this gear back. I’ve got more plugin’ and playin’ to do.
Maretron ( (602) 861-1707. www.maretron.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.