By Ben Ellison
More to Come
|Part 2: H6 appears to be a dual-computer, dual-monitor, do-everything concept.|
While the M1500 could actually be used with any onboard software, the USB Navigation Keyboard is tightly linked to RayTech RNS and will be introduced with it. It’s a distinctive waterproof and backlit input device that can live in its inset cradle, hopefully at arm’s reach from your helm, or be popped out for use in your lap or wherever else its 15-foot curly wire tether reaches. That “Page” key flips those page tabs I mentioned, and those five unmarked keys on top correspond to the “Function Bar” seen on the monitor screen. And so forth. I’ve tried it, and it works darn well. Plus the new RayTech is already designed for an anticipated touchscreen monitor, and the keyboard may eventually become wireless.
So what we have here is almost everything it takes for an entirely integrated bridge, and surprisingly the integration extends well beyond Raymarine’s own extended family of dedicated electronics. That monitor, for example, has automatic resolution scaling to 1,280x1,024 pixels and therefore would happily display the output of other manufacturers’ black-box radars. Those ST290 instruments are certified NMEA 2000 compliant, which means they will talk with all sorts of other gear once 2000 proliferates (soon, hopefully). There are input selections for KVH, B&G, Silva, even Heart battery monitors in RNS 5.0’s deep-reaching hardware setup screens, and I had no trouble hooking numerous NMEA 0183 devices to it. When I commented positively on the software’s open nature to RayTech product manager Louis Chemi, his response— “Well, it better be!”—seemed to sum up his company’s commitment to offering customers the choice of building a mix-and-match integrated system.
However, Chemi was clear that Raymarine also wants to offer a “complete, turnkey, fully warrantied solution” and says he, too, is frustrated about the continued absence of that long-awaited marine computer into which all the above would simply plug and play. It’s not for lack of engineering, prototypes, and so on; apparently, it’s just not easy to mass-produce the bulletproof machine Raymarine has in mind. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. The real hurtles of a boat-worthy PC-based navigation system are the display, the keyboard, and the radar, sonar, et al connectivity—all of which Raymarine now has in spades. I was able to do my testing just fine on both off-the-shelf desktop and laptop. While neither is anywhere near as rugged as I’d like for use at sea, I could have a spare stowed in a locker, or I could go to a specialist company like VEI for something better.
At any rate, the big story here is that Raymarine is unquestionably dedicated to moving marine electronics into the PC age and itself into larger yachts. Add to this the fact that last summer Raymarine announced the acquisition of the H6 integrated navigation and entertainment system from a British research firm. The name derives from the famous 18th-century contest to build a clock accurate enough to determine a boat’s longitude. A genius engineer won it with his fifth design, dubbed H5, and thus this new system’s name boldly suggests a multicentury leap in technology. In fact, Raymarine CEO Malcom Miller told me that with H6 “seeing is believing.” I look forward to that as the company begins showing prototypes at this winter’s boat shows.
In the meantime, H6 appears to be a dual-computer, dual-monitor, do-everything concept. Consider the nav integration offered by RayTech RNS and family (portions of RayTech may even morph into H6’s nav area), then add possibilities like Internet connectivity, a camera network, and a kick-butt sound system—all supposedly working together behind a strikingly friendly interface. H6 will be marketed as a complete system and will no doubt crown Raymarine’s ambitious continuum of systems. Of course there may be delays and/or changes in this or that, but the overall goal of an integrated system for most any boat or taste is a righteous one, and Raymarine can be proud of what’s already accomplished.
Raymarine Phone: (800) 539-5539. www.raymarine.com.
This article originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.