Written by Ben Ellison for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
I hesitate to write about a marine technology that isn't an actual product yet; especially when I don't understand it! However, there may be a story here worth telling. At the end of his career, a very experienced engineer came up with what he believes to be a superior autopilot technology, but it will never become available to boaters unless someone new carries the project forward.
I first heard about Pilot Line a few years ago when William Pease and his family contracted a guy quite experienced in the current marine electronics industry to market Pease's 2012 patent. That person is quite knowledgeable about autopilots, and was quite enthusiastic about Pilot Line, but he still couldn't get a non-engineer like me to comprehend what makes the system special. I decided to wait for sea trial results, then he apparently lost interest, and I forgot about the whole thing until today when William's daughter Leone got in touch. The story now is not so much about selling a patent as helping a 94-year-old dad see his last invention at least evaluated by fellow engineers who could possibly use it.
And it only takes a glance at William's partial resume above to see that he's eminently qualified to design autopilots, even reinvent them. But getting the attention of active autopilot engineers is not easy, even via Leone's Panbo Classified ad (though a surprising number of sales have resulted from that largely dormant effort). I have no idea if the Pilot Line algorithms could benefit the latest systems from Raymarine, Garmin, Simrad, or Furuno, but I understand that a prototype is up and running on the sailboat seen below with Bill Pease and some of his family. Furthermore, they say the system could also make sense as a new PC-based autopilot. I hope that interested engineers will contact Leone Johnson and give Pilot Line a good look.