Let's create the best all-in-one modular tactical instrument for sport boats!
Last year our TacTic RaceMaster broke down. While searching for a replacement it became clear to me that there is no single unit available that gives you everything you need: Magnetic compass, GPS, easy interface and the possibility to add speed through water and wind set later on. Maybe the Novasail comes closest. That's probably the reason why you see a lot of teams sailing around with both a TacTic and a ProStart ($1200 worth of equipment and still not everything you would really want). In the end we bought a ProStart, which does the job OK-ish, but still lacks some features to be the single all-in-one tactical instrument.
I became a bit frustrated and went looking on electronic components sites. Ended up ordering some components (60ch GPS, LM300 compass, LCD display, lots of wires, some buttons and a battery pack) and an Arduino microcontroller. Total investment: $100.
Soldered the stuff together and did some programming.
I plan on further finishing this thing. I don't know yet what I will do with the result. My primary goal is to have fun and learn while doing. If as a result some boxes will make it into 'production stage' and can be shared amongst friends, that would be cool. And from there on: let's see what happens. One of the main drivers is that the components are readily available so that everyone who wants to give it a shot is able to put this thing together. Also the source code can be shared, so that if you're really into this nerdy stuff, you can make a contribution or implement your own specific features.
What can you do?
If you dig this idea as much as I do, please give me as much feedback as you'd like. One of the critical success factors I believe is the ease of use of the interface. So feedback on that is highly appreciated. Below is a high level overview of what the thing is currently capable of and some ideas for future improvements / add-ons.
Result so far
At this moment the whole Frankenstein thing is loosely held together with tape and is in no way water proof or shock resistant at all. However there are four buttons and a working LCD screen and a battery pack consisting of 6 AA batteries which keep the unit running for well over 14 hours. The whole interface is built up around the four stages of a race: Tune-Up, Pre-Start, Start, Race. The four stages can be cycled through via the buttons and every stage gives you the following options:
Sail upwind and make some tacks. Tacks are automatically detected. The device logs average course over port and starboard, up and down deviation on these courses, mean wind direction plus deviation, average speed on both tacks and a tack angle. Using two buttons you can initiate the tune-up logging, stop it (and store) or start again if conditions severely changed (big shift, significant drop or increase in wind speed).
Displays a summary of the data collected during Tune-Up. Allows for 'pinging' of the pin end and committee end. After pinging both ends of the line, based on the average wind direction, the biased end of the line is indicated. However this last option is of course quite arbitrary...
Countdown, distance to line, time to line at current speed and time to line on average upwind speed.
Magnetic and GPS heading (HDG and COG). GPS speed. Deviation of course based on last minute (lift/header), deviation of course based on average port / starboard tack. Also the possibility to set new upwind reference data (quick redo of data gathered during Tune-Up) when conditions severely change. Same for downwind.
Future improvements - software:
- Allow pinging of start line not only by getting two ends of the line, but also by sailing on or parallel to the line.
- Work out a way to get more relevant data on the downwind leg and detect passing of the upwind / downwind mark.
- Pinging other marks of the course (upwind, spreader, gate), don't know yet if this will be useful and what to do with the data.
- Improve tack-prediction accuracy during tune-up by combining COG/HDG with heel sensor of compass.
- Data logging in a common format (csv, gpx)
- Calibration by user of compass
Short term improvements / add-ons (hardware)
- Waterproof case and waterproof buttons. Doesn't have to look good for now, but should allow to take the unit out for testing instead of running around with it on the parking lot... ;-) Friend has a machinery factory so this shouldn't be much of a problem.
- Add wireless wrist mounted small display for tactician so he/she can see the numbers without having to stop hiking
- Add possibility to add through-hull speed sensor and wind set. Figure out how to display this addidional data in a useful way
- Get better LCD screen. Current thing has 20x4 text only LCD. Should be bigger and graphical. Key of the whole thing is to get an extremely idiot proof and intuitive user interface. This works best using graphics and/or colours I think.
Longer term add-ons (roughly in order of realism):
- Get a really good casing
- Proper NMEA output
- Solar cells
- Possibility to mount a bigger screen (or more of them) in front of the box so the box is useful for bigger boats as well. Around 10", daylight readable, low power consumption. Something like the PixelQi screens ($300). The current Arduino microcontroller is by far not powerful enough to handle such a hi res screen, so additional computational power should be added using something like a raspberry pi or beagleboard. The latter should be integrated in the screen, so the box itself can be left as is, and the screen is a real add-on.
- 12V adapter and wiring since the bigger screens won't run on the 6xAA batteries for sure.
- Since additional computational power has to be added for the bigger screens anyhow, might as well put an open-source navigation package on it.
- Integrate Full HD camera in the bigger screen to allow filming the on board action and add performance data to the video stream. No more need to fit an additional Go Pro anymore...
- Maybe some entertainment features on the bigger screens as well (music, video) for after-race beer time in the cockpit.
- More wireless options (connect to laptop over wifi etc etc)
- Even more wireless options (two-boat tuning with data wirelessly transmitted)