|From Tactical to Practical|
Part 3: LookSea’s augmented-reality display never stuttered and never lost accurate track of where it was.
By Ben Ellison
You can tilt and pan the camera, either freely or in fixed increments, and also ask it to stay aimed at a particular object like a man overboard or a radar target. I haven’t mentioned the latter yet, but LookSea can receive and display NMEA target data from ARPA radars as well as the new AIS (Automatic Identification System). Both are becoming common, at least on large yachts, creating a sort of digital network something like the military’s “common operational picture,” though we never call it that. At any rate, refer to those foggy day screenshots again and imagine a target icon popping up and helping you to quickly identify the real ship as it emerges from the murk; you could even have the camera focus on that spot until it does. Given that AIS signals include a vessel’s size and type as well as course and speed, LookSea could draw a custom 3-D icon for each AIS target. (That’s a feature still on the drawing board, but feasible, as is the plotting of DSC calls discussed in this month’s “Electronics” column.)
None of these target features were installed for my demo trip, but I did get to see LookSea perform in tough conditions. The visibility was atrocious, and the 28-foot water taxi was bouncing around Portland harbor like a jumping bean. Yet LookSea’s augmented-reality display never stuttered and never lost accurate track of where it was. We couldn’t see actual unlit buoys until we were right next to them, but there they were, right where the display indicated. LookSea in action is pleasantly simple, but what’s going on under the hood isn’t. The output of that wide-angle camera is going through a computer and being reprocessed before it hits the screen; if there were any lag, you’d get sick. The geophysical dynamics of the camera lens, GPS antenna, and boat bow must always be perfectly and instantly accounted for, or the result will be distorted, rather than augmented, reality.
Benton rolls his eyes when discussing the prodigious “art and science” behind LookSea’s performance; it may seem like a particularly well-thought-out new product to me, but in fact he’s been at this for a long time. And snooping around his office, I’m struck with the kaleidoscope of creative experience he brought to the venture. Framed testimonials applaud TSI’s late-1980’s contributions to SimNet, a giant networked battlefield-training simulation still in use. There’s a cool mockup of a solar-powered autonomous underwater vehicle (SAUV) whose complex communications system is a current lab project. Beyond the tactical, other keepsakes suggest the whimsical. Back in 1981 Benton taught himself programming by writing a slightly salacious game that eventually became the famously funny Leisure Suit Larry series. He’s also the guy who created the Frogger arcade game my grown-up kids still remember with glee! The scene reminded me of the wonderful serendipitous quality of much technological innovation and also suggested that LookSea’s inventive juices flow from a deep well. I’m guessing that this first Pro product will be a welcome addition to many a megayacht bridge and am stoked to see whatever comes next.
LookSea Phone: (207) 882-9963. www.looksea.com.
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This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.