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Old 23-01-2019, 10:53   #1
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Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

We are talking a complete stand-alone commercial chart plotter designed to be mounted anywhere. Comes ready to run with OpenCPN, and can of course use any chart suitable for OpenCPN. Allows you to tinker with the software with no limitations, but you do not have to.

It is a proper quality commercial device, with an aim to be also affordable. The specifications below are at this time fairly open:
  • Mounting in bracket or on surface. Only external connection needed is 12V, so easy to install and remove.
  • Casing is water proof, exact final IP-rating TBD.
  • Display full daylight readable, between 8" and 10". Capacitive touch. Anti reflective. 1000 nits or more, exact TBD.
  • Main CPU is standard Raspberry Pi 3 with Wifi and Bluetooth.
  • Latest high performance GNSS with integral antenna built in. No external antenna option.
  • AIS receiver built in.
  • NMEA 0183 bidirectional interface.
  • No NMEA 2000, possibly optional.
  • Supports SignalK and Pypilot.
  • Battery backup to survive power interruptions, and for orderly shutdown.
  • Power consumption TBD, but aim is to make it as frugal as possible.
  • Backlight auto-adjusts to ambient.
  • Low power standby mode with instant wakeup.
  • Hard power switch.
  • Possibly other hard buttons: Man-over-board? Restore standard zoom with current position on center? Full zoom/pan/etc?
  • No depth sounder interface.
  • No radar interface.
  • Charts pre-installed depending on market.
  • Use wireless keypad for downloading charts and other maintenance.
Your views on this, and on the specifications, would be highly appreciated. Would such a product be of interest?

(Sorry, cannot say more about any commercial details at this time.)
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Old 29-01-2019, 20:43   #2
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Possibly interested at higher screen size/resolution
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Old 29-01-2019, 20:58   #3
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

So it is basically a preinstalled PI with Moitessier hat running OpenPlotter in a waterproof case with display?
If the effort that this sure will take is to be invested:
Why no hole for the Ethernet cable to connect radar?
Why no space for the CAN interface to N2K?
There sure is market, how big mostly depends on the commercial details we do not know...

Pavel
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Old 29-01-2019, 21:33   #4
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

I think a resistive touch screen would work better on a small vessel. This is one application where a less sensitive screen probably works better. Capacitive touch might be overly sensitive when trying to do things on a moving vessel, especially with a wet screen and gloves on.


Also, without NEMA 2000 support you're probably dead in the water and the Pi setup is really MFD capable, not just a plotter so you should include the ability to relay and receive data over wifi, too.



Having built a near identical pi based unit for my boat (that also has an MFD) I can see that this would be a good option for the less technically inclined. Best improvements would be dedicated buttons and a touch screen menu and data entry system that works as effectively as commercial MFD's do, including non geeky configuration. The ability to add a wireless keyboard of the type used for home media systems would be an added bonus for expanding the system
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Old 29-01-2019, 21:39   #5
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tillsbury View Post
Possibly interested at higher screen size/resolution
Same here, bigger screen, getting old.
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Old 29-01-2019, 22:09   #6
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

I own a tiny Skipper 20 1983 model, and have recently purchased a Garmin gpsmaps 64st only to learn that to purchase additional map downloads of the gulf of mexico cost as much as $300. It has long been my dream to sail around the gulf and i am not able to find a bit bigger boat I can afford so I am going to pursue my dream before my time runs out , on my little Skipper 20. S/V Valhalla is a very strong built little boat and probably not much designed for "blue water" sailing, it is what I have. What is a dream if you dont livevit right? I know i am about to get lots of negative, tacky comments as usual on these forums, but I am not as fortunate as many of those who have the money or let me say the credit to own a "bad..." blue water cruiser. I am a disabled 54 y/o man with a simple dream that I am going to try to fulfill before the sands of my hour glass run out. Now, i wanted to ask if OpenCpn is a good way to navigate as opposed to a hand held 64st garmin? Ive done lots of coastal sailing back in the 90's on a Hunter 26 but am pretty much new to gps except for having worked offshore off of a crewboat in the production industry before my disability. For those who must make an attempt to shoot my dream down, "Please" I have enough obstacles in my life, I only ask you keep the negative comments to yourselves, and to those who may offer some advise on this issue, Thank you most kindly"! Many fair winds. Trey
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Old 29-01-2019, 23:37   #7
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Quote:
Originally Posted by Treyolsen View Post
I own a tiny Skipper 20 1983 model, and have recently purchased a Garmin gpsmaps 64st only to learn that to purchase additional map downloads of the gulf of mexico cost as much as $300. It has long been my dream to sail around the gulf and i am not able to find a bit bigger boat I can afford so I am going to pursue my dream before my time runs out , on my little Skipper 20. S/V Valhalla is a very strong built little boat and probably not much designed for "blue water" sailing, it is what I have. What is a dream if you dont livevit right? I know i am about to get lots of negative, tacky comments as usual on these forums, but I am not as fortunate as many of those who have the money or let me say the credit to own a "bad..." blue water cruiser. I am a disabled 54 y/o man with a simple dream that I am going to try to fulfill before the sands of my hour glass run out. Now, i wanted to ask if OpenCpn is a good way to navigate as opposed to a hand held 64st garmin? Ive done lots of coastal sailing back in the 90's on a Hunter 26 but am pretty much new to gps except for having worked offshore off of a crewboat in the production industry before my disability. For those who must make an attempt to shoot my dream down, "Please" I have enough obstacles in my life, I only ask you keep the negative comments to yourselves, and to those who may offer some advise on this issue, Thank you most kindly"! Many fair winds. Trey
OpenCPN works fine. I have also Navionics on my phone, to use in the cockpit. Not all charts are available on opencpn. I use Opencpn on a Surface and on a raspberry pi, my Mac as backup.

A cheap system: waterproof Android phone and Navionics. I think you could get away with 200$ including charts, and these are good charts.
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Old 30-01-2019, 01:26   #8
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Excellent feedback so far, thanks. The original specs had some restrictions on purpose. Summary, including other feedback:
  • N2K-compatible is in, clearly. And NMEA0183 as possible option.
  • Screen is a real dilemma, some want small (low power consumption for sailors), others larger (12" ?).
  • Regarding resistive instead of capacitive. A resistive screen is plastics, not glass. Is it really scratch proof enough, and what about anti-reflectiveness?. Would some basic keys for pan etc help "rough condition" operation?
  • Consider higher performance Arm platform than RPI. (Still open)
  • Ethernet is mostly the cost of a good weatherproof socket. It all adds up.
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Old 30-01-2019, 06:50   #9
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

No external GPS antenna option will be a severe limitation for a lot of people.


I have a buddy with a Catalina 34. He was very happy with his cockpit mounted chartplotter, and no external antenna, until he decided to mount solar panels on top of his bimini. Suddenly he couldn't receive signals from any satellite that was more than about 30-40 degrees above the horizon. Of course, his chartplotter still works, mostly, but he REALLY wishes that he had a way to put an external antenna on it!


Personally, in the future I will think long and hard, and consider all of my options and circumstances, before I buy a chartplotter that cannot take an external antenna.
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Old 31-01-2019, 08:10   #10
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

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Originally Posted by denverd0n View Post
No external GPS antenna option will be a severe limitation for a lot of people.
Bear with me, it may not be so bad The GPS choice was done on purpose, based on the following thinking:

Remote GPS antennas have always had their challenges, carrying a tiny 1.5GHz signal on a long coax is fraught with issues. Fueled by the development of the smartphone, GPS receiver technology has improved immensely and become cheaper. So now, for the majority, the built in antenna solution is plenty good enough, and overall a much better choice because it is cheaper, less hassle and more reliable. Adding an external antenna option adds cost and complication.

For those who may need or want an external solution, the choice is simply to purchase a modern integrated GPS antenna/receiver unit that outputs to NMEA. They are now available at affordable prices, and are technically probably a better solution than the separate antenna and receiver anyway.
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Old 31-01-2019, 08:29   #11
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Good reasoning, but remember most of these are NMEA0183 still so make sure to keep that input option. There are still a lot of boats there using older instruments that don’t talk N2k yet.
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Old 31-01-2019, 17:50   #12
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Welcome to the forum.


Are you planning to run openplotter on this?


Why support n2k? I think it's against free software and it should not be supported. Tell me what you use it for so we can discuss alternatives.


What screen? Is it a normal screen with replacement high power backlight?



Why a raspberry computer? It's not a great choice because still rather slow, and the graphics drivers are never going to work well. There are a lot of alternatives some even cheaper and a few only slightly more expensive that are much faster (15x faster than raspberry 3 for $60) and more capable in every way.



How do you handle touch screen when it's wet? Will there be buttons as well?




It's going to need a vhf antenna connector for decent AIS reception, and as mentioned gps as well, but external usb gps with long enough wire is a good option.



It will be completely waterproof? How will it stay cool and not overheat?



What is the price? Please keep it below $300.
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Old 31-01-2019, 22:13   #13
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

Opencpn does not work very well with only a touch interface. I tried this on a Surface when the keyboard broke. You need VERY small fingers and lots of patience.
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Old 01-02-2019, 02:26   #14
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

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Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
Are you planning to run openplotter on this?
All open software, and OpenCPN definitely. Whether the Openplotter suite is a good fit, we have not yet fully evaluated. We will probably have a few changes to OpenCPN of our own (available on github of course). We would be happy if they are accepted in the main branch, but we do not want to have to rely on it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
Why support n2k? I think it's against free software and it should not be supported. Tell me what you use it for so we can discuss alternatives.
Good question. We started out saying NMEA0183 to gauge the reaction. From a mechanical/technical point of view, N2K admittedly has much going for it, and it is now well established. Open source support for it is perhaps also now good enough, and as long as we use another name for it, it may be all right legally. Would very much welcome your views.

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What screen? Is it a normal screen with replacement high power backlight?
We are looking at several alternatives. Needs to be robust, good brightness yet low power. In our current early prototypes we have an 8" inch screen with thick, solid glass and approx 1000 nits of brightness and just over 3W of power consumption. We are looking at some alternatives to make the backlight even more efficient, too early to say where that will end.

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Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
Why a raspberry computer? It's not a great choice because still rather slow, and the graphics drivers are never going to work well. There are a lot of alternatives some even cheaper and a few only slightly more expensive that are much faster (15x faster than raspberry 3 for $60) and more capable in every way.
For the main computer we definitely prefer a standard solution instead of rolling our own. RPi 3 B+ actually performs not too bad in the 8" screen in every day operations on vector charts, as long as it is configured well. We are also looking at the Asus Tinker S as a higher cost and performance alternative. Again, would be interesting to hear your proposals.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
How do you handle touch screen when it's wet? Will there be buttons as well?
Our feedback from users of other plotters is that capacitive touch works surprisingly well even in an open placement at the helm position. A physical bar to rest the hand against does help when it gets rough.

For hard buttons, our current minimum is power/standby, man-over-board, and chart-normalize. Whether we want to add pan/zoom and more must be evaluated.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
It's going to need a vhf antenna connector for decent AIS reception, and as mentioned gps as well, but external usb gps with long enough wire is a good option.
We want internal antenna solutions for both GPS and AIS. Which we believe will be good enough for most users, and also very reliable. For GPS we are rather certain, for AIS we need to test more. If you want external AIS or external GPS; the preferred solution is via NMEA.


Quote:
Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
It will be completely waterproof? How will it stay cool and not overheat?
Proper weaterproofness is an absolute requirement. This has some real consequences for connectivity. Low power consumption (for sailing) is also important, which makes cooling less of an issue. There is always the possibility of adding a cooling fin on the rear, but we think it can be avoided.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boat_alexandra View Post
What is the price? Please keep it below $300.
We definitely want to try to keep the price as reasonable as possible, but feature creep always contributes to cost, as you may be aware Tough choices have to be made.
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Old 01-02-2019, 02:31   #15
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Re: Contemplating a commercial plotter based on OpenCPN

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Opencpn does not work very well with only a touch interface. I tried this on a Surface when the keyboard broke. You need VERY small fingers and lots of patience.
We are painfully aware of that, so the intention is to redo common daily use menus, such as the chart panel options, so that they work for touch.

For more intricate things, like maintaining the chart database and downloading new charts, we would have to rely on a wireless key/touchpad.
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