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Brave New World

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The Future of Boatbuilding - page 4

By Capt. Bill Pike

For those of us who think modern GPS technology is the epitome of the navigational paradigm, Jim McGowan, a former training and product engineer with Raymarine who’s now the marketing manager for the company in the United States, has some interesting news. While GPS is not going away any time soon, McGowan says, we’re going to see it frequently interfaced with Advanced Heading Reference System or AHRS technology in the future, an arrangement that’s likely to engender developments that have a whiff of science fiction about them.

Raymarine marketing manager Jim McGowan is also an engineer well versed in repairing radars.
The Evolution Autopilot with 9-axis sensor in profile.

The Evolution Autopilot with 9-axis sensor in profile.

“We’re already using AHRS in our new Evolution autopilots,” he explains. “Thanks to the motion-control folks at our parent company FLIR Systems, as well as some other aerospace-type folks who handle the guidance of unmanned vehicles, we’ve come up with control algorithms that give these pilots very high levels of accuracy, self-learning, and ease of use—you simply install the pilot, for instance, turn it on, and it works with virtually no calibration.”

But McGowan sees AHRS going well beyond such niceties—in fact way beyond. After all, he says, the technology Raymarine is marketing right now fields a 9-axis sensor that instantaneously measures among other things heading, pitch, roll, and yaw with hair-splitting accuracy. So if some trusty manufacturer combined a slightly more specialized unit, capable of registering the faintest movements in virtually all directions, with a hyper-accurate GPS, why couldn’t said manufacturer someday launch, in McGowan’s words, “a boat that docks itself with the push of a button.”

“We’ve got all the sensing technology right now,” he argues, “Look at Toyota and Ford—they’re producing automobiles that more or less park themselves. I expect we’ll see boats that do the same in the future. In fact, I’d be very surprised if somebody isn’t working on a project right now.”

McGowan’s take on the future offers a couple of additional tweaks that have almost as much shock value. Thermal-imaging technology from Raymarine’s parent company FLIR Systems, he thinks, will not only proliferate (due to economy-of-scale-driven reductions in cost) but also eventually go well beyond mere night-visioning for safety and navigation.

“I foresee a time when this technology will sense a person’s presence onboard,” he says, “and, thanks to voice recognition, respond to normal conversational imperatives. You’ll step into the saloon of your boat and merely say what you want to do and, in a flash, your TV program comes on and the lights dim just the way you like them. No special commands necessary. No code words. You just talk in a totally conversational way.”

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