there to take a Broadband 3G unit out on
the water, and prove in several different
situations that human nautical know-how
could outperform the latest algorithms and
programming. And when Konig threw in a
snide remark about a modern fishfinder’s
digital-processing capacity, I knew I’d have
to test animated abilities against these as
well. I’d prove who’s better, the man or the
machine. And in doing so, discover a thing
or two about what this kind of modern technology means to us, as boaters.
BREAK BAD ON BROADBAND
I’ve used plenty of modern radar in the
past, and have yet to find one that could
even come close to outsmarting me. So,
what’s different about Broadband? Several
features change the way automatic adjustments are made. For starters, unlike traditional pulse radar, Broadband uses a different STC (sensitivity time control) curve (for
adjusting amplifier gain) for every range,
specifically optimized for that particular
range. Secondly, because the unit is solid-state, there’s no tuning necessary on startup.
Third, signal processing takes place at a
higher speed than traditional pulse radar,
with 16 bytes of data as compared to 10 or
so. On top of that, it has more data to work
with since it’s operating at 75 MHz of bandwidth, as compared to 18 to 20 MHz with
more common radar. There’s more — but
Navico techie Don Korte would only give
away so much information before shutting
the conversation down.
To put this technology to the test, I
started on short range (1/8-mile), in an area
with plenty of hard targets: a tiny creek off
Selby Bay, surrounded by tall trees and large
homes. With the radar on standby, I put
The radar does better on its own in long-range views, too; Thomas Point Light
(indicated by the white arrow) is much more clearly defined, and two day
markers (marked by green arrows) are visible on-screen, instead of one.
the machine on manual and scrambled the
sensitivity, rain and sea clutter, interference
rejection, and target boost. Then, I started
transmitting and got busy with the buttons. A few minutes later, I was pretty darn
satisfied with myself. I had hard returns all
around, no clutter on the screen, and I could
even pick up a pair of crab trap floats bobbing close together next to the boat.
I took a screen shot for evidence, then
to prove my superiority, switched into auto
mode. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole
heck of a lot of difference in what I saw.
When I placed the screen shots side by side
and examined them more closely, however, I
didn’t like the results. The floats (indicated
in the screen shot with the blue arrow),
which were more or less merged and could
be mistaken for a single return on my manually adjusted screen, were much more clearly
differentiated by the Broadband’s brain. And
a feeder creek just a few feet across was actually visible, while on my screen it wasn’t.
Ouch! Score one for the machines.
Hopefully, I’d have better luck with
longer-range views. I motored out into the
mouth of the river, re-scrambled the set-
tings in manual mode to get a fresh start,
and switched to 12-mile range. With a few
minutes of careful adjusting, I was happy
with what was on-screen: I could see the
small, red day marker a half-mile off to star-
board (green arrows on the screen shots),
got a nice hard return from freighters four
or five miles off dead ahead and slightly to
port (black arrows), and I could see Thomas
Point Light about two miles out, slightly to
port (white arrows).
Finally, score one for the human. The manually adjusted screen is much clearer, and has far less clutter
while still showing the fish.