An inexpensive and expandable boating simulator.
Tired of expensive solutions that just don’t have all the functions, controls, and capabilities you need or want? Do you need more types and sizes of boats including sail, PWC’s, trawlers, or cruisers? Better instrumentation such as fish finder type depth, a chart plotter, NMEA interface to OpenCPN? Need scenery that is real places with real data? If you answered yes then read on.
So, what is the MuVIT simulator?
Originally built as a tool to enhance the Tampa Power Squadrons (a unit of the United States Power Squadrons) boating safety courses, the multi-vessel interactive trainer or MuVIT was developed as a low-cost and easily transported boating simulator built with off-the-shelf components and software that you can purchase yourself to build your own simulator platform.
As currently implemented, Tampa’s MuVIT simulator provides a full-featured simulated boating experience while maintaining a modest cost. Any size screen is supported as long as your computer can interface with it. The wheel and control panel/throttles can be packed into one small rolling case. The CPU is a commodity laptop that any squadron should have available, not an expensive gaming laptop. We currently run on an HP4540s i5 laptop, this model was new in 2010 and it performs just fine. Rather than retire that old laptop, repurpose it to be a boating simulator for boat shows or classroom demonstrations.
Reducing the costs
We are moving away from the expensive VRInsight console primarily due to the difficulty of sourcing that device and the associated high cost. Instead, we are going to a system that uses a tablet to perform the functions previously performed by the switches, so essentially a ‘glass cockpit’. The throttles we 3D print which keeps costs down and use a common commodity micro-controller with a standard USB connection for the interface which should plug and play with Windows 10/11. For the switches for items such as the chart, radar, depth finder, etc. we have implemented a tablet-based interface You don’t even have to buy a tablet if you already have one, just download the app, Unified Remote, from the app store and the server (free) which runs on Windows, then add the config files we build, or build your own. If you have an iPhone or Android-based phone it will run on those also. The cost of the MuVIT simulator hardware aside from the laptop is now under $200 which is much less than the previous incarnation. It has greater capabilities while still not requiring a high-end laptop.
The good news is that the new software still supports the VRInsight console if you already have one so you can continue to use your existing hardware or buy a VRInsight console if you want to go that way.
Better software with more options
We have also replaced the ShipSim software with Virtual Sailor NG which has more capabilities and vessels to choose from as well as being a supported package whereas ShipSim had been retired for years. Once set up you can load a large number of vessel types from runabouts to pontoon boats to yachts and sailboats. That said, nothing can replace experience on a real boat to learn the proper skills for boat handling. For squadrons in areas of commercial traffic, numerous large vessels can be downloaded to add to the simulations so students can get a feel for how those craft move and how long they can take to turn or stop.
The software MuVIT uses has integrated NMEA capabilities so it can interface with OpenCPN or other products which understand the protocol. In the display shown here running OpenCPN, it is connected to a wireless network which is providing the NMEA data transport between the computers.
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