An autonomous boat across the Atlantic

While we may be waiting for unmanned drones to deliver a pizza, there’s already an unmanned ship plying the Atlantic on a transoceanic voyage. It’s called Scout, and it’s the product of about two years worth of work by a very close-knit group of friends.

Scout is a 12.5 foot ship constructed out of foam and carbon fiber loaded up with solar panels, electronics, an electric motor and a SPOT satellite tracker. The team has been working on Scout for the last two years now, and this last week the autonomous ship finally set out on its mission: a 3500 mile journey from Rhode Island across the Atlantic to Spain.

Right now, Scout is just over four days into its mission having travelled 90 miles from Rhode Island on its way to Spain. You can follow Scout on its journey on this very cool live tracking site.

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Tracking ships using software-defined radio (SDR)


When we first started hearing about software-defined radio hacks (which often use USB dongles that ring it at under $20) we didn’t fully grasp the scope of that flexibility. But now we’ve seen several real-life examples that drive the concept home. For instance, did you know that SDR can be used to track ships? Ships large and small are required by may countries to use an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder. The protocol was originally developed to prevent collisions on large ships, but when the cost of the hardware became affordable the system was also brought to smaller vessels.

[Carl] wrote in to share his project (which is linked above). Just like the police scanner project from April this makes use of RTL-SDR in the form of a TV tuner dongle. He uses the SDRSharp software along with a Yagi-UDA. The captured data is then decoded and plotted on a map using ShipPlotter.

Water Strider robot does it with Lego parts

This Lego watercraft uses drinking bottles as pontoons arranged in a pattern that make it look very much like a Water Strider, the insects that dance on the surface of a lake.

After the break you can see a video of the rig gracefully navigating a local pond, along with a raft of ducks. It’s quiet enough not to startle them, which is nice. We don’t get a good look at the propulsion system, but [Vimal Patel] calls the floats “hockey bottles” in his Flickr comments. They appear to be Lego themed and we’re wondering if they are some type of packaging for a small set that doubles as a sports drinking bottle once the pieces are removed? The rig includes a camera which provides a great persepcive very near the water level.

This isn’t his only floating creation. He’s got a second rig that was used to film some of the footage of this one.

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Adding power trim to a boat

[Matt’s] boat had a trim plate that could be adjusted by hand. The problem with this setup is that the trim angle of a boat changes as you speed up or slow down. Last year he never really went over 35 MPH because of this issue, but he set out to correct that by adding power trim plates for the upcoming boating season.

The original trim plate didn’t have a hinge on it, but simply flexed when tension was added to the adjustment hardware. [Matt] removed the plate and cut it into three parts; one long thin strip to serve as a mounting bracket, and two plates to independently adjust trim for the left and right side of the keel. Some aluminum strip hinges connect the three pieces, and a pair of used actuators acquired from eBay automate the trim adjustment. Each plate is strengthened by a pair of angle brackets, which also serve as a mounting point for the actuators. The final step was to add a pair of switches near the throttle lever which are used to make manual adjustments when the boat is in motion.

Scout, the autonomous transatlantic boat


Sailing a small boat across the Atlantic ocean is quite the daunting task. As many have discovered, it is a journey often fraught with perils, typically ending in failure. A team of four college students decided the best way to get a small boat across the ocean would be to remove the human element from the process, so they set off to build an autonomous craft to take on the task.

Like most projects, this one started as a handful of wild ideas exchanged between friends [Dylan Rodriguez and Max Kramers]. As they thought about it more, they decided that turning [Max’s] sailboat into an autonomous ocean-going craft would be pretty awesome, so they got to work. Recruiting help from their friends [Brendan Prior and Ricky Lyman], the project started to quickly take shape, and Scout was born.

Scout is 8 feet long and consists of foam core covered in carbon fiber. It is filled with various electronic components such as a SPOT tracker, a battery bank that will power the boat for up to 25 hours, and the various servos and motors which will be used to pilot the craft.

It’s a rather ambitious project, though the boat is nearly complete – just in time for their launch, slated for May 29th. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this project as the launch date approaches – good luck guys!

Head on over to their Kickstarter page to see a promo video introducing Scout.

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Protei: articulated, backward sailing robots clean oil spills

The Protei project aims to develop a robotic solution for oil-spill cleanup. [Cesar Harada] quit what he calls his dream job at MIT to work toward a solution to the ecological disasters that are oil spills. He had previously been working on Seaswarm, a swarm of robots that use conveyor belts of absorbent material to leech oil from seawater. But Protei doesn’t use legions of drones. It aims to use better design to improve the effectiveness of a small number of units.

The whole idea is well described in the video after the break. If a long trailing boom of absorbent material is towed in a serpentine pattern perpendicular to the flow, starting down current and moving upward, it can be quite effective at halting the spread of crude. Initial experiments have shown that a robotic vessel can do this efficiently with just a few improvements. First, to counteract the drag of the tail the rudder of the boat was moved to the bow. Secondly, the hull has been articulated as you can see above. This allows the robot to better utilize wind power to sail, making turns without losing the push of the wind.

The project is raising money through Kickstart as an open hardware project. Let’s hope this becomes a cheap and effective way to fix our costly drilling mishaps. Continue reading “Protei: articulated, backward sailing robots clean oil spills”