Originally, I built this blog for myself. I wanted to use it to track maintenance and projects on our boat and to share trip reports and stories with friends and family; basically a captain’s log online.
But in the past few months, the traffic to this blog has dramatically increased, due to my OpenCPN Chartplotter project. It has been linked to in other forums, by other people that have found it in searches. It has been interesting to see.
I’ve also answered a few emails and forum posts from people that would like me to build one for them — either because they don’t have the time, or that have no interest in the electronics/software DIY aspect of the project.
Since I have a bit of an independent/entrepreneurial streak in me, this has had me thinking for some time that it might be interesting to create a device that takes all the leg-work out of creating a chart-plotter using standard components and OpenCPN. Everything, both hardware and software, that I’ve used so far has been Open Source, which allows commercial application and use. I’m not looking to quit my day job and be a chart-plotter vendor — Garmin, Lowrance, and Raymarine are already well established.
The idea is simply that the baseline system could be provided in an out-of-the-box solution. A low-powered device that can display GPS-located charts on a 7 or 10″ sunlight readable display by simply providing 12v power. Is this something that more people would be interested in?
I have three of them, and will probably purchase more. As a movie player (XBMC), or low powered (battery) computer, it really is great. And the price cannot be beat. Also, if you simply want a cheap integrated chartplotter, the Raspberry Pi is by far the most cost-effective platform. It also has the best community support.
However, for the autopilot/chartplotter project, I actually am running into limitations with it’s processing power. For example, when testing AIS functionality, the CPU was pretty much maxed out when running the services as well as OpenCPN — so much so that the entire UI would hang for a few seconds.
After researching the different inexpensive, low-powered, single-board computers, I decided to go with CubieBoard. Specifically the CubieBoard3, aka CubieTruck. It has a DualCore 1Ghz A7 SOC processor, 2Gigs of RAM, 4Gigs of NAND flash memory for an OS as well as micro SD, built in WiFi and Bluetooth, and most importantly a graphical processor that complies with OpenGL ES 2.0/1.1 so the graphics can be offloaded from the CPU. It should be more than capable for my needs in this project, especially since I still consider the performance of the Raspberry Pi to be sufficient.
It does come at a cost — It’s about twice the price of a Raspberry Pi, it consumes about 1.5 times the energy (2 amps at 5v), and is about twice the size physically: