man overboard

FLIR M-Series A Major Safety Enhancement

FLIR M-Series High Resolution Night Vision System

FLIR M-Series High Resolution Night Vision System

While a night-vision system may not be at the top of your electronics acquisition list, there may be a couple of reasons to reconsider that.  At the Miami boat show I spent an evening wandering around Biscayne Bay in the dark experimenting with the new M-series night-vision systems from FLIR and I think I’ve moved this technology up on my own wish list.  Let’s face it, it’s not cheap by any conceivable notion — $19,995 for the complete high-resolution version of the system, $14,995 for the basic system — but if you spend lots of time at sea in the dark, it can provide tremendous safety and operational enhancements.

FLIR, a company that derives its name from the technology acronym for one type of night-vision — Forward-Looking InfraRed — has expanded its product lineup with this sleek new system.  The M-series actually comes in two versions; the Standard version is an updated edition of the Navigator product, while the high resolution version offers 4 times the resolution and twice the range performance of the standard.

Man Overboard as Seen by FLIR M-Series

Man Overboard as Seen by FLIR M-Series

Just to give you an idea of the performance, FLIR had another boat out on Biscayne Bay and some poor soul (volunteer, they assure me) jumped overboard (with lifejacket, strobe and boat standing by) so we could test the Man-OverBoard (MOB) contrast and gain setting on the system.  All I can say is that it was truly impressive.  From a moonless, pitch-dark bay, the system’s heat sensors picked out the swimmer from what seemed like nearly a third of a mile away.  To the naked eye there was only blackness, but in the monitor view, using white-hot as the setting and with the gain and contrast automatically turned up, he was clearly visible — and visible long before his strobe was.

Bridge As Seen by FLIR Infrared Technology

Bridge As Seen by FLIR Infrared Technology

Add to that performance the views you see in the pictures accompanying this post that dramatically demonstrate the navigational utility of the FLIR system, and you begin to understand how it would totally change your night boating experience.

The unit itself is a sleek, if somewhat simple design and rather looks — with all due apologies to the industrial designers — like an elegant cross between a white art-deco trash can and the R2D2 unit from Star Wars™.  Okay, I’m not doing it justice, but that’s really what it reminded me of.  The two sensor windows are at the top — one each for light-intensification and one for infrared detection.  The gimbal mount at the bottom of the unit allows the M-Series to be bolted down to the deck or hung upside-down from an overhead.  Either way, the unit can swivel to provide full view of the surroundings.

The control unit for the M-Series includes a small text display and a joystick, along with a couple of buttons with both fixed and programmable functions.  Using the joystick is child’s play and, after getting used to the proportional-input — the faster you move the joystick the faster the unit slews — it’s easy to track moving objects.  The high-resolution M-Series unit is the highest resolution infrared sensor in the marine recreational market and it makes a big difference, both in image generation and display.  The unit is controlled via an Ethernet cable and, when given its own IP address, can be controlled from anywhere on its network.

In this writer’s view, the enhanced capabilities, and relatively lower cost of the M-Series night vision system from FLIR make it one of the best safety enhancement technologies in recent years and in the top 2 for 2009 so far.

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Posted by Tom in Technology