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Doppler Marine Radar is Here

Garmin’s GMR Fantom highlights moving targets in red with a blue trail

Garmin’s GMR Fantom highlights moving targets in red with a blue trail

Exclamation marks, curse words...honestly I had trouble holding myself back when Furuno and Garmin both announced new solid-state radars at the Miami Boat Show in February. After many years of Navico trailblazing what is arguably a better way of doing radar, and with Raymarine’s Quantum just recently announced, suddenly all four major brands offer some form of solid-state radar. That would be big news by itself, but Furuno, with its NXT radome, and Garmin, with its Fantom open array, could also both justifiably proclaim a first in bringing valuable Doppler radar enhancement to our boating world—because neither apparently knew what the other was up to. Can I get a holy mackerel!

Fig. 1: The Furuno DRS4D-NXT UHD in standard mode

Fig. 1: The Furuno DRS4D-NXT UHD in standard mode

Below in Fig. 1 we have a screen shot from the new Furuno DRS4D-NXT UHD in action on a TZT or TZT2 multifunction display. It’s a 24in radome with ranges from 1/16th of a mile to 36 miles driven by 25 watts of pulse compression power, said to be equivalent to a 4kW traditional magnetron radar. It has all the “normal” pluses of solid state radar, like low power consumption, fast startup, long component life and super-safe emission levels. But what’s most significant about the screen is what you still haven’t seen.

Boom, now look at another screen shot from the same radar scene in Fig. 2 with Furuno’s Doppler-based “Target Analyzer Function” in action. All targets in green are nearly stationary or moving away from your boat while the two targets in red are moving toward you at more than 3 knots. This analysis purportedly happens very quickly and changes dynamically, because Doppler means that target motion can be detected with every radar sweep. Plus, while this advancement by itself is major radar news, Doppler-effect technology as I understand it should also help the NXT with automated sea clutter filtering, tuning and more.
NXT radar also uses Doppler for a “Fast Target Tracking Function” that can supposedly display the speed and course vectors of any approaching vessel automatically and quickly. Moreover the DRS4D-NXT can have as many as 100 ARPA targets manually or automatically acquired—while none of the recreational marine competition has fully automatic ARPA at all—and it also boasts “RezBoost Beam Sharpening.” Excited yet?

Fig. 2: The same screen, but with two targets moving toward the user highlighted in red

Fig. 2: The same screen, but with two targets moving toward the user highlighted in red

Meanwhile, Garmin has coined the term “MotionScope” to describe its Doppler-based target speed discrimination feature on the new GMR Fantom 4ft and 6ft radars, and you can see it nicely marking moving targets in red with dark blue 10-second echo trails on the radar window shown above, with the useful trails carried over to the chart overlay. Fantom claims a “highest in the industry” 40 watts of pulse compression power and also good wet weather detection, as suggested on the screen (which also shows the great Virb XE integration that I hope other brands will compete against). Fantom also claims target detection from 20ft to 72 miles, and has two rotation speeds with dual ranges and also support for dual radar units.
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Note that the Fantom is a premium radar with the 4ft model priced at $7,000 retail, and so probably are the new GPSMAP 84/8600 17in, 22in, 24in super-high-res MFDs we’re also seeing in these product photos. That said, if Garmin can build a good premium solid-state Doppler open-array radar, won’t they eventually be able to put similar technology into a reasonable-cost radome? And vice versa for Furuno? And won’t Navico and Raymarine be soon scrambling along the same Doppler enhanced trail, if it works as advertised? That’s the wonderful thing going on here. Solid state recreational radar has now been officially validated, and we already have a better grasp of the Doppler add-on because two brands enabled it once.

I also think it’s time to officially declare the solid state radar war underway, which I hope will rage like the recent sonar wars, with wave after wave of more effective, easier to use and less expensive devices—albeit with less litigation. This is the sort of high-tech battle in which everyone—sailors and manufacturers alike—could be a winner.

Editor’s Note: For more of Ben Ellison’s insights on marine electronics, go to panbo.com

May 2016

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