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R2AK is approaching, our pilot units are taking shape

Los Gatos, California – May 10th, 2022 – Vincent and I have been busy the last few weeks, getting ready to deliver our first pilot units to our beta testers participating in the Race to Alaska 2022 (

Vincent is focusing on our the hardware and firmware development. He designed the schematics of the Printed Circuit Board (PCB), selected the components and oversaw the manufacturing process. This run is our third since we started the development of MAPTATTOO. As with any hardware electronic project, it takes time to get things right. Several weeks for the design, a couple weeks for drawing and routing the multi-layer Printed Circuit Board, a few more weeks to manufacture the boards, assemble the hundreds of components and a few more weeks again for bringing the boards up and make sure they run OK under normal conditions. Electronic components supply chain issues forced us to adapt and redesign multiple times when components became unavailable. Our boards for the pilot are finally assembled in Ontario and Vincent will soon be able to bring them up.

Debugging our prototype board

On my end, I have been working on the software for a couple years now. The largest part of the development was to develop a chart reader that could read the chart data originating from organizations such as the NOAA and CHS. We decided to develop our own chart reader rather than leveraging existing technology in order to adapt the reader to the unique properties of the eInk screen. The eInk screen is one of the most differentiating features of MAPTATTOO. It allows optimum reading characteristics while outside, in direct sunlight but it also requires careful control in order to optimize the screen refresh times and power consumption. The main features of the software will be ready by the end of May and will allow MAPTATTOO’s operators to view their speed, heading, their position on the chart and the ability to zoom, pan. Waypoints and routes will be loaded from standard .gpx files and will allow users to view their distance and bearing to the next waypoint. Current and Tide data will also be presented on the chart, based on NOAA and CHS tide stations. I still have to work on a few more features to better represent some S57 Chart features and obviously, correct a few remaining bugs.

Software development

The enclosure is another critical part of the development process. It needs to be beautiful, waterproof and manufacturable. Rather than developing an injection mold right away, we are producing our pilot units using a urethane casting method which allows for a good finish with a reasonable tooling cost. We just received the First Article Inspection which looks good but has a few defects we want to correct for the remaining pilot units. We have the screens as well which are bonded to a 1.1mm Gorilla Glass Pane. This glass pane should offer sufficient scratch and shock resistance.

Enclosure First Article Inspection with the screen in place

So all in all, things are looking good and we still think we will be able to get the units ready before the start of the Race to Alaska. For those of you using one of our pilot units, we encourage you to start working on your routes and waypoints. MAPTATTOO supports the .gpx file format and within the .gpx file, standalone waypoints, routes and tracks (tracks will get converted into routes).

The following tools are good options to generate .gpx:

  • OpenCPN (you will need NOAA and CHS S-57 charts)
  • Garmin BaseCamp
  • GpsVisualizer (This is probably the simplest solution as the tool does not require any installation. Just navigate to and start adding your standalone waypoints and/or your tracks, then export as a .gpx file. The only downside is that the trackpoints cannot be named, so you will see them simply numbered on MAPTATTOO. If you prefer having names, you could import the .gpx in BaseCamp, convert the track into a route and then name the route points in BaseCamp before exporting. Alternatively, for those of you who are familiar with the .gpx file format, you can also edit it in a text viewer and add the <name> tags inside the <trkpt> tags)

That is all for now, getting back to working on these pilot units.

– Erwan Kerebel