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Helm Screens - The Future

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The Future: Things Are Looking Up

As mariners come to rely on electronics to observe and control their vessels, screen technology may well assume the role of a tail wagging the dog. Today, big yacht bridges tend to be as spacious as they are commanding. Helm chairs are positioned to overlook a row of display screens set in a cherry or matte-black dashboard. The helmsman, more than an arm’s length away, often manipulates the electronics by remote control. 

Touch skeptics notwithstanding, today’s population is being trained through its adoption of smartphones and tablets to control technology using finger gestures. The establishment of this “new normal” may well drive the market for marine displays going forward. As touchscreens proliferate, industry engineers speculate that boatbuilders will take heed, and helm designs will evolve into something more akin to the cockpit of an aircraft. 

This year Furuno unveiled a marine MFD with dual-touch functionality. It works like an iPad, controlled by swipes, taps, and two-finger pinches. Furuno Product Manager Eric Kunz says he expects boatbuilders will rethink helm designs, making them more “touch-centric” to accommodate a customer base that will increasingly expect fingertip control over its technology. Is the horseshoe-shaped console, with a helm chair at the center of a curving display array far behind? 

Fighter pilots keep their eyes on the ball thanks to projected “heads-up” displays as shown here. Is this in the future for boaters?

Ultimately this reconfiguration of yacht helms may contribute to an even more radical change; piloting at sea may come closer to resembling the way pilots fly through the air with the greatest of ease. KEP Vice President Tony Zuccarelli says his company is studying ways to modify heads-up display aviation technology for the pilothouse in a boat of the future. Imagine seeing monitoring and navigation info projected onto a boat’s windshield rather than displayed on a screen. The challenge, Zuccarelli says, is how to “chop down” equipment that now costs more than $175,000, to achieve pricing that is realistic for the recreational marine market.