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Electronics

Time Zero, Live

MaxSea's Iker and Brice Pryzo demo the Time Zero software they developed with Furuno.

"You must see it on water, where the technology and boat come together as one; it's so real!" exclaimed Brice Pryzo, his long arms flailing to overcome his strong French accent and mime the magnificence of his Time Zero navigation software. We were standing behind Furuno's 2008 Miami boat show demonstration area, where hordes were being wowed by the NavNet 3D (NN3D) version of Time Zero, but Pryzo was confident that even more wow was to be had in real-world conditions. And he was right. In May I spent a full day trying both NN3D and the MaxSea PC version of Time Zero with Pryzo and other members of the Furuno/MaxSea development team, and wow, I hardly know where to start!

Actually, the story of Pryzo himself is valuable in understanding Time Zero and the Furuno/MaxSea whole-boat, any-boat electronics strategy that's emerging. In the early 1980's Pryzo was a successful yacht designer and also occasional navigator on offshore racing multihulls, some of the hairiest rides out there. He got fascinated with the new possibility that a PC could combine numeric weather predictions and specific vessel-performance data to determine an optimal sailing route for said vessel. He learned to program, and MaxSea, both software and business, was born.

MaxSea was a great success in its small niche—and even today is likely the most popular offshore charting/routing program—but business-wise that niche was too small. So Pryzo and team turned towards commercial fishermen, who desired more data management and weather options than dedicated gear was offering them. MaxSea had success there, too, and eventually developed the Personal Bathymetric Generator (PBG) module, which earned serious attention from high-end sportfishermen, especially when Furuno bought 48 percent of MaxSea in 2004 and started integrating it with NavNet vx2.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you were wrestling with marine electronics in the early 1990's, you know that software shops like MaxSea were treated by the marine industry as outsiders. Heck, back then it was hard to attach a GPS to a laptop, and a regular installer might not have had a clue. Nobeltec didn't develop its own radar, heading device, etc. because it wanted to, but because it had to in order to get its powerful software front and center on yacht helms. Imagine, then, how exciting it was for a software guy like Pryzo to team with a hardware house as established as Furuno.

Even the little MFD8 is pleasingly fast and powerful, but NOAA's raster charts don't show well on its eight-inch screen, and its vector coverage is incomplete.

In my June 2005 column, "Keys to the Kingdom," I described the wealth of possibilities in the MaxSea/Furuno union and the latter's bravery for entering it. But I had no idea what MaxSea showed Furuno behind closed doors. You see, there are two meanings to the term Time Zero. Most of us know it as a moniker for the extreme speed and dexterity with which NN3D handles charts as well as radar, AIS targets, photo maps, bathy contours, satellite weather, routes, and whatever else you throw at it, whether you want to view it in traditional top-down 2D or 3D. It's an appropriate term, as NN3D is brilliant at presenting all this data with zero redraw interruption.

But actually Furuno appropriated "Time Zero" from MaxSea, where it means something entirely different though equally appropriate: that terrifying but exhilarating Time when software developers throw away every line of code they've built and tweaked over the years and start again at Zero. So in 2004, though Time Zero was a backroom infant, Furuno got a look at the future as freshly envisioned by a team with 20 years of development under its keyboards. Obviously Furuno bit. It didn't hurt that the firm had already pioneered Ethernet, a PC standard, as its networking pipeline and that the eventuality of a marine multifunctioal display (MFD) running Windows and equipped with a reliable hard disk was also obvious.

So the scene was set. I picture a friendly, energetic competition as disparate hardware and software teams—now unencumbered with what was once the weak side of their companies' respective nav solutions—strove to top each other's performance, refereed by an international cast of experienced and pumped design visionaries like Pryzo. Hence the extraordinary sensor performance described and the unfaltering, elegant way Time Zero responds to it.

Satisfaction: Pryzo's home cove in his favorite NN3D mode.

I've left little room for details, but the specific beauties of NN3D have already been wowed over generously, including in my February column, "3D & G." The important point I can add is that I suffered zero Time Zero disappointments in the real world. Sure, the little MFD8 is slower than the big Black Box processor that was demoed at the shows...but it's still faster—and more capable yet easier to use, I think—than any other MFD I've tested. And I learned that it has DVI video output to drive a larger monitor, plus a USB port so you can alternately run it with a mouse or trackball just like the BB version. I also realized that Time Zero can scale from center console to megayacht, the latter likely having two MFDBBs, each of which can display to two independent monitors, plus another PC running MaxSea Time Zero, coming this fall. The high-end concept: NN3D stays a closed, secure navigation network with MaxSea Time Zero (MSTZ) as a gateway for gathering weather and POI information, chart updates, and more from the Internet.

There will also be a stand-alone version of MSTZ, partly because the company has not forgotten its time as an outsider. At my blog Panbo, I'll cover more NN3D/Time Zero concepts and details as well as some issues, like the fact that you can't buy some NN3D components right now, though Furuno is ramping up production as we go to press. There are also concerns about the innovative Time Zero chart scheme, particularly beyond U.S. waters. And some modules, like routing and PGN, aren't built yet, because...you know...they started at zero. I'm sure all issues will be resolved, but possibly not as soon as you'd like.

My lasting memory of Time Zero is from the end of that six-hour test and is suggested by the screen at left (there are also video links at my blog). An understandably content Pryzo was driving to the mooring (the test boat is his), along with a home that's visible on that hi-res photo map and is as modern and stylish as Time Zero. Meanwhile, his son Iker, now the MaxSea liaison at FurunoUSA, was aft, cheerfully demonstrating how the on-screen boat icon instantly responded to his twisting the SC-30 satellite compass. And it struck me deep: It's so real! Time Zero connects navigation to boating in a way I've never experienced and works so well.

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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