Unmanned ocean crossing

This is the Pinta, an autonomous sailboat built to attempt an ocean crossing from Ireland to Martinique (in the Caribbean). A group of researchers at Aberystwyth University built her as part of the Microtransat Challenge.

To keep tabs on the vessel her creators included an Iridium short burst data modem with a backup system made from a SPOT satellite tracker using a PIC microcontroller to trigger a transmission every six hours. The sailing systems are a conglomeration of a Gumstix board, GPS, a windshield wiper motor to control the sail, and a tiller pilot for steering. A set of solar panels helps to top off the lead-acid batteries that power the system.

Unfortunately the old gal has encountered problems. You can see from the tracking data that, although it sailed 500 km in the last twelve days, she is still just off the coast of Ireland. The primary tracking system has failed, which could signal a system-wide computer failure. We hope the team will eventually recover the vessel as we’re interested in finding out what caused this unfortunate turn of events.

Comments

  1. Wow that takes me back http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIbPvxf3hrk I hope they do better than I did at the time!

  2. Anonymous Coward says:

    Keep in mind that the SPOT device may not work well in the middle of the Atlantic, I know from working with similar devices. The Globalstar simplex network requires a nearby groundstation. So keep hope!

    http://www.globalstar.com/en/satellite/simplex_coverage.php

  3. Dave Orchard says:

    Amazing project. Makes me proud to say that i went to Aberystwyth University. Nice one boys :)

  4. goldscott says:

    As a sailor, I’m really inspired to make an autonomous sailboat now. I’ll work on it this winter and have it ready for spring.

    First goal: sail across Lake Michigan. Second goal: Transat. Third goal: Round the World.

  5. jeditalian says:

    Automakers and energy storage startups are racing to create a lightweight battery that won’t interfere with a car’s all-electric range or design, and lead is one of the heaviest elements known to science. It’s not an obvious choice. so really.. why they using lead acid batteries?

  6. Oren Beck says:

    Redundancy and design for “graceful degradation” tends to determine survivability of unmanned systems. It seems simplistic to presume that redundancies can compensate for unmanned situations. Or can they? In many cases- it’s more about how graceful those fail recovery designs can become at mitigating whatever chance throws at them.

    If a single failed component can kill a mission-perhaps that design needs review. Yes, there are practical limits to even the best designs we can create- but increasingly fewer of them are affected by things other than price or dimensional constraints.

    Getting a boat to do what this one has done is still a non-trivial set of things.

    Replication of critical systems only “works” if a failed system can be kept from impacting the mission itself. As in the Mars Rovers where drag from a failed motor became a major impairment.

  7. Ben says:

    @jeditalian

    Depending on their design, they may have chosen lead acid batteries because their weight makes a good ballast, which can enhance stability. Plus their cost per Wh is very low.

  8. charper says:

    A little off topic here, but can somebody explain the rationale of microtransat’s time penalty?

    The effective time for the transatlantic competition (penalty included) is the real time * sqrt(4)/sqrt(length in meters). With 4m being the maximum length allowed. So basically a short (1m) boat suffers a 100% penalty (double time)?!?!

    Wouldn’t the smaller boat start off at a disadvantage anyway? I’d assume a very short boat would have more trouble navigating the rough seas and do worse to begin with than a larger boat. What am I missing here?

  9. charper says:

    Gah… should have provided a link to the microtransat rules. Sorry.

  10. xorpunk says:

    seen this before, cant wait to see how it handles stormy surges in the atlantic without expensive gear or human intervention XD

  11. cknopp says:

    Meet the new smuggling device for cocaine manufacturers in Columbia.

    Now if it only had the ability to detect and avoid other vessels, and not have a sail…

    It would be almost impossible to know where it is going to land unless you were given the coordinates before hand…

  12. ss says:

    @cknopp

    Hey, dumb-ass. First, learn to spell correctly and learn your geography. It is Colombia. Second, lame joke. Third, they may manufacture it here, but bone-heads like you consume it here. Fourth, Mexico is #1 long time ago, Colombia is not.

    Now, to the project itself, it is pretty cool. :) Good luck with it!

  13. sqnewton says:

    @cknopp, dumb-asses like you need to learn more.. First, learn to spell correctly and learn your geography. It is Colombia. Second, lame joke. Third, they may manufacture it there, but bone-heads like you consume it here. Fourth, Mexico is #1 long time ago, Colombia is not. Do your homework.

    Now, to the project itself, it is pretty cool. :) Good luck with it!

  14. ChalkBored says:

    @charper

    it’s time * sqrt(length) / sqrt(4)

    not time * sqrt(4) / sqrt(length)

  15. localroger says:

    @sqnewton maybe you should do your own homework. Colombia is still a big source for C and “semisubmersibles” have been a big delivery vector — near submarines that can’t quite submerge but stay very low in the water; if they’re intercepted the crew ditches and gets rescued according to the Law of the Sea, with the evidence on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. A crewless craft of that type would be a forward step for the smugglers, since the authorities are thinking of classing unflagged semisubmersibles as being some kind of special class of unlawful so their crews can be prosecuted.

  16. xorpunk says:

    At most authorities could get transmission coordinates from satcom..

    I like how it was pointed out that only because america is full of mindless consumers that the drug trade is prosperus in the first place. The entertainment industry there demand “C” and has hundreds of millions to contribute thanks to a economy that is based around class warfare on a social and financial level.

  17. localroger says:

    Actually, the drug trade isn’t lucrative enough to fund the development of special delivery boats because consumers exist, it’s that lucrative because the damn drugs are illegal and artificial scarcity makes them crazy expensive. Most recreational drugs would be pretty cheap if anybody could grow and distribute them without the risk of prosecution.

  18. mangler says:

    And what if it turns around on the water or the sail breaks down then it fucked.
    On the video it wasnt clear to me what they pushing in that loads of paste for just on top of the wires.
    This whole things seems to be a terrible design.

    How much money did u waste on it?

    10K EURO on solar cells
    1K EU/month for iridum access
    ….

  19. Brad says:

    @mangler

    If you’re just sending short telemetry packets, iridium can be really, really cheap. In the US, prices start at $20-$40 per month for the first 12Kb of data, followed by $1.50 per Kb after that.

    The problem for applications like this is that the radios cost $400-$1000 each :(

  20. barryfzr says:

    I’m biased.. but we should’ve sent one of our MOOPS…..

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=110062036719&ref=ts

  21. Tom says:

    “This whole things seems to be a terrible design.

    How much money did u waste on it?

    10K EURO on solar cells
    1K EU/month for iridum access”

    To be honest we actually wanted rid of the thing, it had been sat in the lab doing nothing for years so we figured it would be worth trying to get her to do something.

    You’re right the design isn’t fantastic but it’s a pretty old lash-up, we work with much better boats now.

    As for cost the panels are nothing like 10K euro and the iridium costs were worked out to be a few hundred dollars for about 3 months worth of data.

  22. Charper says:

    @Chalkbored

    Wow, thanks… I must be getting dyslexic or something, I swear I read that the opposite way 10 times.

  23. Colin says:

    @charper

    I’m the admin for the microtransat site. When I saw your posted I checked the formula and realised it was wrong and have since corrected it. I had found this mistake ages ago and thought it was fixed but either I hadn’t saved it or it crept back in somehow.

    The idea is to compensate for hull length (smaller hulls limit speed) by effectively giving smaller boats faster times.

  24. stib says:

    >To be honest we actually wanted rid of the thing, it had been sat in the lab doing nothing for years so we figured it would be worth trying to get her to do something.

    Ha! so it was a coffin ship!

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