Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Message from the Inventor of HandHELM(tm)

-Patrick Todd

I'm a software engineer by trade, and I specialize in getting various instruments and systems to "talk" with each other. I am also a USCG Licensed Captain, and enjoy cruising on our 44' catamaran with my wife.

One day, my Simrad depth finder/wind display went south. Since my cat was built in year 2000, all of the electronics use the NMEA 0183 protocols. I did a google search and an eBay search and could not find any used Simrad units that could be purchased as a replacement. These items are discontinued, and Simrad no longer sells them. Instrument displays now are made using the new NMEA 2000 standard.

I spent months researching NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000. As a software engineer, I understand the message streams and compatablility. If I choose to add a NMEA 2000 display, this would be incompatable with my current configuration of NMEA 0183 instrumentation and navionics. I would have to either replace ALL of my current network of instrumentation, autopilot and GPS with NMEA 2000 protocol equipment (I didn't have the green to do all of that) or invent a new solution that would allow me to keep my existing investment.

Necessity became the mother of invention. I was now on a mission. I needed to minimize expensive marine navionic investments when displays broke down. I also longed for new benefits.
  • I wanted to be able to be anywhere on my vessel, and have key instrumentation and navionics at my fingertips.
  • I wanted to be able to change course, without having to always be at the helm station.
  • I wanted to have a complete backup of instrumentation and GPS - in the event other "wired" systems failed.
I didn't want to do anymore wiring - better yet, I wanted to take advantage of wireless technology from the ship's WIFI. I began exploring a better way to connect NMEA 0183 instruments (depth, wind, etc) and navigation (GPS, autohelm) - into a device that was both wireless and portable.

Using any computer device (pocket PC, toughbook touch screens, Blackberry), a wireless router and a Brookhaus multiplexor - I wrote a program to capture instrument data directly from sensors (depth, wind direction etc) - and then display this information on my hand held aka handHELM(tm) device.

As a Captain, I like the idea that my wife and I can navigate our 44' John Shuttleworth (year 2000) catamaran - from any location on the vessel. In case I needed go below deck, or simply find a position away from direct sun - I thought - "wouldn't this be great if I could monitor the instruments, GPS AND adjust headings - from any position on the boat?". Further, I really liked the idea of having redundancy (backup systems) built in - just in case one of my Simrad or other instruments fails. In this case, I could still have all "information" that would have been displayed to a specific device -- now displayed to my portable handHELM(tm) display.

All of the multifunction instrument and navigation displays that I have seen on the market -- accomplish many of the features that I am doing -- up to a point. Here is where handHELM(tm) outshines existing multifunction displays:
  1. handHELM(tm) does not require any wiring (solution is completely wireless)

  2. handHELM(tm) is completely portable, and can be used on any display that runs windows XP or a Blackberry

  3. handHELM(tm) does not require you to upgrade your NMEA 0183 instrumentation and navionics to NMEA 2000 protocols

  4. built in redundancy works with existing instrument displays (including Trouble Alerts or Alarms, Depth, Wind Direction, Engine RPM's, Cross Track Error, Time of Day, Zone etc). You can use MORE than one hand held device.

  5. handHELM(tm) is a far more affordable option than ANY existing multifunction devices on the market
The software will run on your Ship's Navigation Computer - and on the hand held device of your choice. NMEA 0183 messages received on the Ship's Navigation Computer are re-transmitted via WIFI to all listening hand held devices.

Ship's Navigation Computer
  • -Requires Windows XP Pro
  • Accepts NMEA 0183 input on upto to four USB (serial) ports
  • Allows all input NMEA 0183 to be used by your existing Navigation Software without interruption
  • NMEA 0183 message sharing. Maintains a real-time list of all listening handHelm(tm) devices and re-transmits all NMEA 0183 messages to each of the listening devices.
  • GPS failsafe redundancy. Allows the user to identify 2 GPS sources and will automatically switch from a primary GPS source to a secondary GPS source if the primary stream is interrupted.
  • NMEA Multiplexor. Will echo any/all NMEA 0183 input to a single NMEA output effectively combining NMEA inputs into a single NMEA output stream.
Hand Held Device (portable, mobile notebook, tablet PC or Blackberry device)
  • runs on any device that uses Windows XP Pro or a Blackberry device
  • Will transmit Autopilot control messages.
  • Displays instrumentation data such as Apparent Wind, True Wind, Depth, and Log.
  • Alarms include Shallow Depth, Deep Depth, Gybe Zone, and GPS signal loss.

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