Last month, the most modern access to a yacht’s systems was with two fingers on an iPad. This month it’s swiping gestures across a completely glass bridge helm. Advanced technology in yachting is not the future, it is now.
“And the future is… we’ll demand even more,” said Michael Blake, president of Palladium Technologies.
At the Monaco Yacht Show in September, Palladium Technologies of Ft. Lauderdale introduced an innovative yacht bridge with no tactile buttons, switches, dials or gauges. The company created one platform for the helmsman to control separate equipment readings. The glass panels of Simon Gold connect to alarm systems, navigation, lighting, entertainment, security and more.
It incorporates the same technology in use with smart phones including pinching motions to make things bigger and smaller, touch and drag to pull items from menus, and swipe motions to collapse windows.
“I’ve always wanted a clean, flat glass bridge,” Blake said.
And there’s no going backward, Blake said. This type of technology is now required.
“It was just 12 years ago they said, ‘no computers on yachts’,” Blake said. “Did this happen over a generation? No, this happened in five years.”
The introduction of the glass bridge helm is what Palladium calls an industry first. Many yachts first experienced major technological innovation with the advent of electronic cartography. Those yachts are now moving to wireless tablets, mobile computers with touch screen technology. Physically bigger than a smart phone, yet more portable than a laptop computer, tablets are used by crew, owners, and guests. Most users access the Internet, e-mail, social media, GPS navigation, video and camera, electronic reading, media players and everything available in downloaded applications.
The top selling tablet is the iPad, which was first introduced in 2010 by Apple.
“Anything that works on the Internet, you can run on an iPad,” said Martin Fierstone, president and CEO of Global Satellite in Ft. Lauderdale. “For yachts, there are obvious uses like navigation, communication and remotely monitoring ship computers or systems.”
To be clear, tablets or glass bridges do not replace yacht systems; instead, they change how the user communicates with existing equipment onboard. Until all yachts have the next iteration of technology, most will still have existing hard-wired navigation, radar, engine room and security systems onboard. And most will use tablets to access and control them, for now.
“M/Y Robusto has two captains, one an old dog like me; he would go on the wing and sniff for shore and use a sextant,” Blake said.
“The other said, ‘I want everything to drive from here,’” Blake said, pantomiming a helm. “I understand both, and what’s right is what’s right for each person.”
A supreme example of these trends in technology is M/Y Adastra, a 140-foot trimaran, which can be run from an iPad. From more than 150 feet away someone can drive, drop anchor, monitor fuel, pumps, temperatures, lights and security systems. The boat can technically be driven by a tablet from shore.
But these technologies takes forethought to be as seamless as swiping 3D transparent screens in the air like Tom Cruise’s character in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.” The primary concern is planning proper installation to ensure a smooth transition, Blake said.
“The backbone is the most vital,” Blake said. The “backbone” on each vessel consists of everything that comes together to make it work.
“It is paramount for reliability, capacity and security,” he said.
In making sure the “backbone” is sound, there are several factors to be aware of, said Jerry Kathalynas, special projects engineer for Ward’s Marine Electric in Ft. Lauderdale.
Captains should consider interference, security and bandwidth since the technology uses wi-fi, cell phone or satellite signals to connect with hard-wired equipment. The same things that interfere with cell phones can disrupt onboard communications.
“Sometimes you just walk through, your connection drops out and you hit a blind spot,” Kathalynas said.
“A marine radio, radar, microwave oven, these can all affect it,” Kathalynas said. “Even other networks, if they are on the same channel or frequency.”
Kathalynas once was using his laptop onboard a yacht when an engineer began work on the frequency converter.
“If it’s not shielded or grounded it can interfere,” Kathalynas said. “I was 15 feet away when the cover was pulled, and my mouse didn’t work.”
He suggests that setup should use security protocol systems. And captains should monitor networks, control who has access and check that passwords are in place for vital programs.
“With technology, someone is always trying to get in, hack in to disrupt your systems or use,” Kathalynas said.
Application upgrades can cause instability and bandwidth limits are a consideration, he said. If kids are playing games and there are too many devices logged in, it can slow things down, Kathalynas said.
These concerns can all be addressed and limited, Kathalynas said. One example of a solution is redundancy in systems, said Blake.
“In all of our designs there at least two multi-touch screens, which are supported by at least two PLCs (programmable logic controller) and other redundant electronics,” Blake said. “If any one of these should fail, the other can support all of the functionality of the other one so there is no loss of capability.”
“Just be willing to accept and understand how limitations could affect you,” Kathalynas said. “As long as you are aware. And a good design will take it all into consideration.”
Like it or not, technology is advancing at an exponential rate and the acceptance is also exponential, Blake said. Today, crew, guests and owners have cell phones, laptops and tablets; and all of them expect instant connectivity.
“It has evolved into an interconnectedness and people expect it to be immediate,” Blake said. “If captains don’t get on board with this, they will be pushed out or work on smaller boats.
“The owners are younger today and will hire those with technology,” he said. “It will be a forced retirement for some of the captains who don’t adapt.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Lucy Reed and Bob Howie contributed to this story. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.