Wemar Nautipad, why not e-paper instrument displays?

Wemar_Nautipad_displays_aPanbo.jpgThey look like excellent instrument displays, especially when you realize that they’re portable, wireless, waterproof, touchscreen tablets that rarely need charging and shouldn’t be wicked expensive. Unfortunately, though, they’re not currently available. I hesitate to write about a discontinued product, but the seemingly well-developed Wemar Nautipad system above could come back on the market if another company wants to give it a go, and e-paper screens seem like an interesting idea for boats anyway…

Wemar_Nautipad_video_aPanbo.jpg

Information about the Nautipad system is still up on the site of developer Wemar (Weber Marine) in Slovenia, and this Nautipad video nicely shows off what the displays can do (this one, too). The 16 level grayscale, 800 x 600 pixel screens seem fast for e-paper and very readable (though I don’t know how well the “adjustable Edge-Lit LEDs” work at night). But Peter Weber told me that Wemar has regrettably discontinued the product due to insufficient interest since its 2012 METS introduction. “It seems that nowadays everyone wants color, although that is completely unnecessary for the purpose,” Weber wrote, along with the hope that some company with more marketing clout might take the product over. And there’s a lot more to the Nautipad system than just the e-ink tablets.

Wemar_Nautipad_server_aPanbo.jpg

Weber also developed the powerful looking Nautipad Server that interfaces a boat’s NMEA 0183 sensors with the Linux-based WiFi tablets (brochure PDF download here). The system can even control certain autopilots and there were NMEA 2000 and SeaTalk server modules at least in the works, as well as an interface with the chain counter and windlass/thruster control Wemar still offers. (Weber is also the inventor of the Tandem Anchor that intrigued Charlie Doane.) There were also two slide-in, tilt/swivel tablet holders available, one with a 12/24v charger, and the system apparently has enough horsepower that many other functions were planned.



When the Nautipad system was on the market, a basic server/tablet kit cost about $585 with an extra tablet about $240 (at the current friendly exchange rate). I believe that the fairly low prices were possible — and may still be possible — because the tablets can be sourced in reasonable volume from another Slovenian company called Visionect. In fact, one of the best explanations of electronic paper technology — also called e-paper or e-ink — is on the Visionect blog, and their Geoffrey electronic waiter system (below) is another good way to see what a dedicated e-paper tablet system can do. And of course, there are lots of other e-paper display manufacturers, like whoever makes the Amazon Paperwhite, and you also might be impressed with this E Ink display destruction test video.

I like bright color displays (and still don’t understand why more VHF radios don’t have them), but I wonder if there aren’t good uses for rugged, low power, highly readable e-paper displays, too, especially given all the development being done to put boat data and control onto WiFi. In fact, it was one of the Signal K developers who suggested the Nautipad to me, and I understand that that project is moving along very well. What do you all think?

Visiontech_e-paper_tablet.jpg

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

13 Responses

  1. Todd Huss says:

    Great product idea! Many already have nmea over wifi so I think the better product idea is just selling waterproof e-ink tablets, it also makes for a much larger potential market. Hopefully color e-ink isn’t too far off. Exciting to see Pebble Time using color e-ink.
    Here’s the kind of product I’m excited about to achieve the same goal but using standard android apps talking to existing nmea wifi gateways:
    http://www.meetearl.com/
    I have no affiliation with the makers, just think it’s a cool product.

  2. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    I entirely agree with you Ben !!

  3. Jason Taylor says:

    This summer, I will be using a Kobo Aura H2O reader as a waterproof (IP67) in-cockpit instrument repeater on my sailboat. It will connect to Freeboard on a raspberry pi over the boat’s wifi. The Aura H2O retails for CDN$180 and provides a decent wireless web-platform out of the box.
    /Jason

  4. DrewR says:

    Jason,
    The device looks to be just a book reader. Is there something I am missing from their website or are you rooting the device to display your boats data (NMEA0183, I assume)?
    I’m looking for something brighter than an iPad to act as a repeater so I am very curious.
    Drew

  5. Michael Coleman says:

    Hey Drew — The Kobo specs list a built-in web browser, and since the display part of the freeboard solution runs in a web browser, I’m guessing that’s how Jason is accessing the data from the Freeboard server. No need to install an separate app.
    Correct me if I’m wrong Jason.
    Michael

  6. DrewR says:

    I see, I didn’t see it had a web browser. But how is the NMEA data getting to a formatted web page on the Freeboard that can be displayed on the Kobo?
    Drew

  7. Mike says:

    I used a nook e-reader and played around with this idea. A python script delivered NMEA 0183 data via a webserver, and it can run on a laptop, raspberry pi, or even a linux-based router. The nook is android based so I was able to try a few browsers until it all worked out. The python code and video are here:
    http://www.holdentechnology.com/component/content/article/69-wifi-nmea-server-with-nook-display

  8. JohnR says:

    Its an interesting concept. The e-ink is wonderful in full sunlight. As easy to read as regular paper. The updates are slow so it can’t do video, but as long you don’t need to update the page more then once every couple of seconds, it would be a great display.
    The browser on the e-readers is pretty basic. It may not have full HTML5 support that freeboard requires. I couldn’t find any technical details on the browser, and it seems it’s still beta, and not officially supported: https://www.kobo.com/help/en-US/article/3084/browsing-the-web-with-your-ereader?products=Kobo%20Aura%20H2O
    The Arduino and Raspberry Pi are really small and cheap computers. They’re still at a hobby stage, so some work will be required to get this all working.

  9. Bob Shearer says:

    I’ve been using a Nook Simple Touch with a IOIO interface for the last year. The eInk display is superb. The legibility in all lighting conditions far outweighs the lack of colour.

  10. IanL says:

    Very interested in this topic. I’ve been successfully adapting Kobo readers for use as a flying instrument for paragliding and hangliding, so very interested in exploring their use as a instrument reader for boats as per Jason’s posts above, so will be having a crack at this.
    Big advantage of Kobo is readable in bright sunlight, very low power usage and cheap. Being able to have 2 or 3 of them around the boat would be a great solution if one can get it to work. Looks like whether or not the beta browser on the Kobo will suffice will be the key to it.

  11. ccannan says:

    Bob, I am very interested and impressed by your project. Would you be willing to share your software? Please respond to ccannan at yahoo.com.

  12. ccannan says:

    I viewed your website re: Nook Simple Touch. I really like the idea. I’d like to get more information if I could, please contact me at ccannan at yahoo.com

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