NMEA Technology Award, yike!


Who knows why I had my hand up like that, but I do vaguely remember the scene — Furuno showing off NavNet on some sort of military grade head’s up display, I think — as one of many geek moments I’ve enjoyed at NMEA conferences.  In my experience, there’s no concentration of marine electronics expertise and enthusiasm anywhere that compares to the Conference’s trade-only exhibition hall, and many of the seminars are great too.  But the affair became a dite more stressful for me last year when I got involved in the NMEA Technology Award, which went to Navico’s Broadband Radar with honorable mentions to Maretron’s N2KBuilder and Navionics’ Mobile (PDF here).  This year may be even harder…

In today’s press release about the award entries (PDF here), NMEA Director David Hayden is quoted thusly:

We’re very excited about the product entries for this year’s
Technology Award. They represent a wide range of hardware and software
innovations that directly benefit boaters by enhancing what they
experience at sea. Now it’s up to our panel of distinguished and
talented judges to select the best of the best. We’re grateful to them
for their thoroughness in making what will be a very difficult

All but the third sentence ring true to me πŸ˜‰  Dean Travis Clarke, Tim Queeney, and I have quite a task before us, as you can see in this entry list (with company links):

FLIR First Mate handheld thermal imager, FLIR Systems, Inc.

GPSMAP 7215 chartplotter with G Motion technology, Garmin International

E-Series Widescreen multifunction display with HybridTouch, Raymarine Inc.

WASSP Navigator Software, Electronic Navigation Ltd.

MaxSea Time Zero Explorer navigation software, Furuno/MaxSea

TracVision HD7 satellite TV antenna, KVH

USAT 30 marine stabilized antenna, Cobham Satcom SeaTel

Simrad NSE multifunction display with version 2.0 software, Navico

Matrix AIS/VHF (GX2100), Standard Horizon

AIS WatchMate RX, Vesper Marine Ltd.

Fortunately we do have some criteria, as noted when the 2010 Award was announced:  “The Technology Award
recognizes recently introduced products that advance technology within
the marine electronics industry. The award will be given to the product
judged ‘best’ based on a combination of innovative design, benefit to
boaters, practicality and value.”  If you have an opinion as to which nominees excelled in these terms, feel free to express it below…but, please, no trash talk.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

35 Responses

  1. Taniwha says:

    Just a general thought. Since I assume that this is primarily an award for excellence in NMEA 2000, and that is strongly pushing for open architecture and individual units that work with other manufacturers’ products, it would seem to me that any product that has proprietary connectors, or “extra” wires in their “N2K” buss, should automatically not be considered.
    Pushing that idea a bit further, in my opinion that filter for winning should also apply to those manufacturers who hide their N2K compatability behind a proprietary name for their buss, and write confusing literature and websites that do not disclose to the average, non-techie, sailor that they can easily be linked to other manufacturers’ products.
    There are actually very few manufacturers who, in my opinion, are openly promoting the “works with all N2K products” philosophy. Most still are trying to hook the user into only their products.
    Again, in my opinion, the award should not only be given to a product that is technically excellent, but to one whose manufacturer openly supports the idea and spirit of an open architecture.
    I think that would narrow it down very quickly.

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sorry, Taniwha, wrong assumption. This award encompasses all marine electronics technology. Heck, several of those products couldn’t do anything with NMEA 2000 anyway. And who said interoperability is the highest priority? It’s a pretty big deal to me, but I’m aware that many boaters (and boat builders) are content going with mainly one manufacturer, and for them the priority is what the system does for them, N2K in any form included.
    PS All that aside, which nominated product best meets YOUR criteria?

  3. Sparky says:

    If the product has a need to interface and you need a tie breaker, I’d use Taniwha’s suggestion.

  4. Scott E says:

    > And who said interoperability is the highest priority?
    This is a really great discussion point, I think, even though it’s arguable off-topic for this post. In my opinion, it should be among the top priorities.
    I’ve got a ton of NMEA0183 aboard. Why? Because despite the fact that it’s old, outdated, and slow – it interoperates and works well. Because it’s been around long enough to get there, my Garmin, Autohelm, and Raymarine instruments all work nicely together, through a Brookhouse MUX. All this feeds into (and out from) OpenCPN, the free and open source chartplotter. All this composes my entire nav suite, and it works well, and is just plain simple, stable, and consistent.
    NMEA itself is a joke. They want $385 for a copy of the NMEA0183 standard. Fortunately it’s been reverse engineered and is available online.
    NMEA2K is a double joke – I think Taniwha lays it out there pretty well. It’s not only something you have to pay for (I couldn’t find the cost on nmea.org, but I have to assume it’s more than $385), but the fact that different manufactures have “Microsofted” the thing so that it’s called by a different name, or slightly incompatible.
    The marine electronics industry is still living in the 80’s – with proprietary standards, and incompatible and competing specifications. These folks need to take a serious look at how the internet works. Not just interface specifications, but protocols, and payloads too. See how nicely it interoperates? My linux laptop, running Chrome is seeing the same page your Windows box, running Firefox is – or your Mac, running Safari. See how nicely that works? Different hardware, different software – but consistent interfaces, protocols, and payloads. A thing of beauty, no?
    This stuff is not rocket science, despite the marine electronics industry continually trying to tell us these black boxes are somehow mysterious and magic. Well it ain’t so! If these vendors sold more than a few thousand units each year they’d be forced into this century – and I guess that’s the rub.
    Until some company is willing to step forward and buck the proprietary trend, we’ll be stuck here for ages (and it’s in their (NOT OUR) best interests to do so). Is it simple? No, NMEA and all it’s ridiculousness is so entrenched that’s it’s not simple. But I think we are making progress! Things like OpenCPN are a huge step in the right direction. Which hardware manufacturer is ready to take the next step? I know you folks are reading this! πŸ™‚

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Scott, but could we please keep this conversation to the ten entries being considered for the Technology Award? Of course interoperability is a factor, but again the overall criteria are “best based on a combination of innovative design, benefit to boaters, practicality and value.”
    That means all boaters, by the way, not just ones who consider a mash-up centered on open source charting software “simple, stable, and consistent” πŸ˜‰ I admire your zeal, Scott, but I’ve never even seen a system like yours on a boat, and I’ve seen a lot of boat systems.
    One thing I like about this Award, as compared to the various boat show Innovation Awards, is that the entered product must have shipped to customers at least two months before the Conference. These are real products, now in the field being used.

  6. Kees says:

    I’d rule out the MFDs, as they are “generation X + 1”. All great systems, but “just” steps in innovation. Same for TV antenna’s plus the observation that they are only useful in the USA. Outside the US you see a lot less satellite TV, usually relegated to bigger yachts.
    I looked at the WASSP website but couldn’t find out quickly why WASSP Navigator is innovative and new.
    What’s the price of the FLIR First Mate? It needs to be “really cheap” for it to be a breakthru. At 5000 or so forget it. It needs to be sub-1000 IMO for it to be a game changer.
    That leaves the AIS products as being products that 90% of the market will be able to buy and have something new to offer. I think both are worth a prize actually.
    Just my $0.02.

  7. Chris says:

    I’d have to agree with Kees about the candidates. IMO there are very few products that can truly say they are being very innovative and ahead of the competition, at least technically.
    Anyhow, I couldn’t also find any readable info about WASSP, it seems to be targeted to commercial fishing and UW survey, not so much as an overall marine electronic gadget. Also I can not see the point of two different SAT TV antennas being nominated. Every Year all major MFD’s are up to the prize, but honestly, who can claim true techincal advantage?
    I have played with the FLIR handheld camera a bit, nice but limited usability for my taste. Price is still a bit high for a “bulk” product as Kees also stated earlier.
    But as these are all just my personal conclusions, I can review them when needed. And as I am also getting the chance to go to the NMEA Expo, maybe I’ll come around with new ideas later on.

  8. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Hands down, it has to be Standard Horizon’s GX2100. That’s just from this geek’s view point, and I don’t own one. The real vote has been in the market place, and it’s a clear winner there. The Hull Truth, Cruiser’s Forum, and another bunch of on-line forums all agree that this one product has overshadowed every other introduction this year. It’s time they were RECOGNIZED for ramping up and meeting the considered needs of the marine electronics customer! DO YOUR DUTY, Ben!
    nice picture.

  9. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    E-series wide is my vote.
    Allthought the touch screen interface came out on other MFD’s first, I can think of the Garmin, it wasn’t a hit with me mostly because I had to always be looking at the screen (e.g. In the first full screen garmin’s depending where you touch on the map, the subsequent menu shows up in different locations causing you to need to look at the screen to know where to touch next.
    With the hybrid touch you don’t have that issue, your fingers can dance across the interface for many functions.
    Touch screens might not seem like a big deal this year, since many of us have phones with the capabilities, but there are thousands of app’s that have failed to make good use of the touch screen from which new application developers can learn.
    On MFD’s, there are not all thought iterations of innvovation to build off of, our MFD’s really were forward looking and done well in the context of how small our market is. Because of this really incredible feat, my hats off to all the MFD’s that have delivered on touch screen technology, and for the e-wide for the hybrid approach that made it really work.

  10. Scott E says:

    I have to agree with Sandy on the Standard Horizon GX2100. Having AIS functionality built-in to the VHF is natural and well done, and at a very decent price point as well (available at a bit under US$350). Hopefully next they’ll do a Class-B transponder in the same package for under US$500 (street price)!

  11. Scott E says:

    I was disappointed to see some of the other comments appear to have been deleted. Can I suggest that all the off-topic NMEA comments (including mine above) be taken to a new topic along with the ones that have deleted? This discussion might not be the easiest to swallow for some, but the industry will be better off because of an open discussion… Thanks!

  12. Chris says:

    Hi Ben. I just wanted to chime in to correct a misperception on the part of Kees with regard to satellite TV and, in the interests of full disclosure, I work for KVH, the company that designed and manufacturers the nominated TracVision HD7.
    Satellite TV is used on a global basis by boaters and is not relegated simply to megayachts. There’s a huge demand for live TV entertainment on vessels as boaters expand their use of boats as second homes or for “stay-cations” to minimize travel costs. Thanks to higher efficiency designs like those found in our TracVision systems, antennas as small as 14 inches (35 cm) are sold throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc, for boats as small as 30 feet.
    In the case of the nominated TracVision HD7 (www.kvh.com/HD7), this particular product supports DIRECTV HDTV satellite TV services in the US as well as services for boaters in Canada, the Caribbean, and throughout South America via both KU and KA band satellites simultaneously.

  13. DaveV says:

    I agree with other support for the GX2100 with AIS. I do own one and can tell you it is terrific stuff. My justification is technical – the notion of not adding a second antenna to providew AIS reception is super – not drilling holes in my boat and running cables is a big plus. Also note that adding more antennas can disturb the transmit / receive patterns of the overall installation – usually for the worse.
    Lastly – it is a BIG deal to have created a receiver that is simultaneously receiving AIS AND normal communications at the same time with very low loss. Using any kind of splitter is going to cause a reduction in transmit power and raise the receiver noise figure – both reduce range. The GX2100 has full sensitivity and beats my previous Raymarine for sensitivity and audio quality and ease of use. My vote for sure.

  14. Drew Clark says:

    Second (or third) the nomination for GX2100 and AIS built-in to the VHF. If innovations like this are rewarded it will surely help drive AIS capabilities into a broader set of marine products and infrastructure. Thanks for asking our opinions!

  15. Chris says:

    As we have already had a VHF/AIS combo unit for sale in Europe for a year now, I cannot give my vote to GX2100 for now. At least before I have seen the unit myself.
    Currently SH products are not sold in my country so I cannot say if it is far more better than Radio Ocean RO4800 (a Furuno France spin off brand) that has a AIS receiver built in. Street price for a RO4800 VHF in Europe is around 350EUR (450USD), so it is a bit more expensive than GX2100 model.
    After coming out with VHF units (hand held and fixed DSC) few years back, RO has also promoted 5″ and 7″ chartplotters and AIS receiver units this spring in European boat shows. Apparently they are not marketed to the US?

  16. Quitsa says:

    I will stay away from the theological standards debate and just answer your question. My vote would go to the Standard Horizon GX2100 based on sheer value and functionality. It makes AIS available to the vast majority of recreational boaters at low cost in a simple but functional format. At least in the US market, it was the first VHF with an integrated AIS receiver and the capability to share an antenna and thus make it even more cost-effective.
    The MFDs are not really all that new or exciting, just later entries in the race begun with the Furuno NavNet 3D series. I have no experience with the imaging systems but again that is a technology that has been available for a while.

  17. Russ says:

    It was a long and painful birthing, and I think the UI is still a bit cumbersome, but I’ll put in my vote for MaxSea Time Zero. I works tightly integrated with Furuno’s NN3D (radar overlay, chart sharing, etc.), it works stand alone, and it works with any third party via 183 (sorry, no industry standard for connecting N2K to a PC yet).
    It’s very fast and very comprehensive. I give it strong a strong vote for innovation and benefit to boaters, a little weaker on value.
    In the interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary copy two years ago as a beta tester.
    The Flir First Mate and WASSP are just too expensive. WASSP doesn’t even target recreational boaters, they stop at “Mega-yachts”.
    Innovation is not just about technology. When Apple started selling iPods and music at the iTunes store, there was no innovative technology involved. There were already MP3 players on the market and music was certainly being downloaded. None the less the products and business model were innovative and changed the market forever.
    I think some of the frustration you’re hearing is that readers would like you to be as strong a voice for their issues, as you are for the manufacturers. You have the opportunity to be an “honest broker”.
    Industry pundits such as yourself send a message with these awards. You asked for opinions and I think you received some comments about both interoperability and affordability. If the awards go to products that don’t have these attributes then you send a message to the industry (e.g., NMEA), the manufacturers, and your readers, that they are not important.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    my vote would be for the Simrad NSE… got it and love it.

  19. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “Readers would like you to be as strong a voice for their issues, as you are for the manufacturers.”
    I try, Russ, Lord knows I try. And I think the goal is somewhat accomplished by providing a place for you and others to address the industry. But today I realized more than ever that I may need to exercise more editorial discretion to keep these comment areas valuable. I deleted three comments from one poster because they were way off topic (despite my entreaties on this particular thread), full of baseless anger, and didn’t make sense. I really don’t like editing comments like that, and have in fact only cut off a non-spam commenter once before in Panbo’s five year history. (And it didn’t help that I started crossing the country before dawn today.) But I will do it again if that’s what it takes to keep this place respectable and useful to the many readers who don’t comment and aren’t really interested in being bystanders to a brawl.
    At any rate, there are plenty of threads around Panbo about interoperability issues, and there will be more. The comments here about specific award nominees, like yours about Max Sea TZ Explorer, are really interesting. Please keep them coming, you all.

  20. SanderO says:

    I vote for the Horizon VHF/AIS because it is a product that many boaters could use and afford and easily install and it gives an enormous value in boating safety.

  21. Skeptic says:

    There is no way that the GX2100 maintains full AIS Reception Sensitivity while it is transmitting voice traffic and receiving AIS messages simultaneously with a single antenna.

  22. Bob Mueller says:

    I vote for the GX2100. I have one and I love it! I think it might be a game changer, as it is a very easy way for someone to get on the AIS bandwagon and it will also encourage DSC adoption. Not too mention that the gx2100 is relatively inexpensive.
    The game that I think the gx2100 will change the most: DSC. To get the AIS receiver in the gx2100 to operate, you must hook it up your GPS. I think this will have an additional effect. It might speed up DSC adoption to a speed that is slightly faster then the current glacial pace of DSC adoption. People that buy this radio for AIS, have no choice but to make that GPS connection. Which of course benefits the DSC.
    I think the “click to call” a ship on the AIS screen is really powerful as well. It such an obvious AIS/DSC function, why did it take so long to get? Why should we have to enter an MMSI to make a call to an AIS vessel? It’s much easier to just hail the name of the vessel on VHF 16, then it is to try to enter the MMSI number of the vessel into the radio and make a DSC call. Especially if you have to do each digit with the up/down buttons! You can do click to call with the gx2100, and not have to enter the MMSI. I think that will also help move DSC forward. We needs things to lessen our load at the helm, not things that require us to enter a long string of digits into our VHF with the up down buttons!
    That’s why I vote for the gx2100. Not only for its contributions to AIS, which I think are good. It’s contributions to DSC, which I think are great.

  23. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    I believe, just combining VHF and AIS receiver in the same box, no matter how good the price/value doesn’t earn an award. Receive only AIS falls short of the potential of AIS for collision avoidance as real AIS safety requires AIS owners to contribute their position for other AIS users to receive. Combine a VHF and an AIS transceiver in the same product at a good price, that would be an innovation.
    Another idea Ben, how about recognizing either
    a) Recognize a VHF radio for providing through it’s NMEA interface the ability for an MFD or PC navigation product the ability to command the VHF radio to call another radio with an MMSI number, and otherwise provide a much better GUI to access VHF DSC functions.
    b) Recognize an MFD or PC product on the list above for innovation in providing a much better GUI access to VHF DSC functions. (e.g. MMSI buddy list, click on an AIS target to hail it, etc.)
    I don’t know which products above would qualify for a) or b) above, does it sound like an idea?

  24. Bob Mueller says:

    Dan, I agree that the gx2100 would be much better if they offered a transponder, rather then receive only. However, there are lots of people that are not quite sure exactly how AIS works, but want to try it out. The gx2100 is a great way for someone to easily and inexpensively “dip their tow” into the world of AIS. Hopefully they will like what they see and ultimately decide to upgrade to a transponder. Just having a bunch of vessels out there with receive only is a heck of a lot better then nothing out there at all. The price point makes it a practical installation on just about any size boat. If Standard added the transponder, the cost would likely be closer to $1,000. That would price it out of most people in the market. As it’s priced now, I think many people will be willing to upgrade to get AIS receive going easily, and without the intimidation of transmitting a signal.
    Yes, some sort of protocol (NMEA 2000??) for a plotter/MFD to send a signal to the VHF to initiate a DSC call would be wonderful!! But that is not out there today. We are talking about the list that Ben gave us today. Hopefully that will be on next year’s list, along with a VHF/DSC/AIS combo transponder!

  25. Dave says:

    I’d vote for the GX2100, I have had several SH radios over the years and to me they are the gold standard, significantly better then ICOM. I have yet to have one fail in twenty years.
    Hopefully well see a integrated transponder soon, thats a winner ( Icom cant be far away either, given recent developments).
    PS: The natives are getting restless it seems!!

  26. Sandy Daugherty says:

    And for a distant runner-up, I nominate the USAT-30 for nothing beyond the absolutely-out-of-control hyperbole of the text in the brochure. It would shame a TV pitch man selling plastic rags!

  27. bwp says:

    Add another vote for the SH GX 2100 … have two on my boat. Terrific value that adds another level of safety to your overall situation awareness. The only thing I would add to this unit is to make it NMEA 2000 certified.

  28. Rick says:

    Here are my 2 cents worth about all the nominees, from a non geek who just enjoys cruising the ICW. I realize that others who travel different places than I would have different priorities.
    First I want to say that I am very pleased that all of these companies (and others) are innovating at an ever increasing rate. As a consumer, we can only benefit from these new products. Keep up the good work.
    FLIR First Mate handheld thermal imager, FLIR Systems, Inc.
    Looks like a really neat system, but since I seldom cruise at night, it is irrelevant to me.
    GPSMAP 7215 chartplotter with G Motion technology, Garmin International
    Certainly a step forward, but I wonder if laptops/iPads etc haven’t made chartplotters nearly obsolete.
    E-Series Widescreen multifunction display with HybridTouch, Raymarine Inc.
    Ditto what I said about the GPSMAP 7215
    WASSP Navigator Software, Electronic Navigation Ltd.
    Certainly useful to many “professionals” but not for the kind of boating I do.
    MaxSea Time Zero Explorer navigation software, Furuno/MaxSea
    This looks like a terrific piece of software, but at $1250. it is way too expensive. There are iPad apps that have 90% of the functionallity at less than 10% of the cost. A welcome trend I note with this software and the chartplotters is that the charts can be downloaded for free.
    TracVision HD7 satellite TV antenna, KVH
    We watch very little television on the boat, so a cheap air antenna is good enough for us. But if someone wanted to watch sat TV, this looks like a very useful piece of equipment.
    USAT 30 marine stabilized antenna, Cobham Satcom SeaTel
    We very seldom travel where we are outside of cell range (with an amplifier), so we have no need for this. But if you need broadband satellite coverage, this would be the way to go.
    Simrad NSE multifunction display with version 2.0 software, Navico
    Ditto what I said about the GPSMAP 7215
    Matrix AIS/VHF (GX2100), Standard Horizon.
    This is something that would be really useful. If my existing Standard Horizon VHF ever konks out, I will replace it with this.
    AIS WatchMate RX, Vesper Marine Ltd.
    Another really innovative product, but not necessary if the boat has a GX2100

  29. Mike Jones says:

    Under the category of MFD’s I think the Simrad NSE made a break through with autopilot integration.
    Hybrid Touch has been done before, yet not marketed as a special feature before (ie 8000i by Northstar), so I don’t believe it’s truly a break through.
    Garmin’s Gmotion technology seems to be a marketing term for charts that redraw quickly, again, every manufacturer claims to have quick chart redraw speeds.
    I would agree with an earlier comment that, for a flir camera to make any effect on the market it would have to be priced accordingly.
    Mike Jones

  30. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Today’s the day.
    How hard was it for the three judges to select a winner ?

  31. Anonymous says:

    GX2100 wins!

  32. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Yes,indeed, Standard Horizon Matrix AIS/VHF won, with honorable mentions to FLIR First Mate and Simrad NSE 2.0

  33. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    And here’s the press release:
    (which I might have put up sooner πŸ˜‰

  34. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Okay, Okay, I bought one. I put it in. It works. No fuss, no muss, Ships on the GPS, Pos, crs and spd on the RAM 3. No tuning, no tweeking, Instructions that are succinct on the first read. I just wish life was like that….

  35. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sorry to report that a slight glitch has turned up in at least some GX2100 Matrix AIS/VHF units (including the one I’m testing). The symptom is that the Names of Class B vessels are scrambled on the List screen, or become scrambled after a few minutes. Standard Horizon has confirmed the issue and is working on a software fix.

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