Better Sailing Computers With Wearable Electronics

Sailing – specifically small boats in regattas – is a hobby that requires a lot of skill. Like any hobby, there are devices and electronics to make the hobby easier. For sailing, its tactical sailing compasses and GPS units. Remember, you probably don’t want to sail in a straight line, and that means offloading decades of experience to electronics. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a sailing computer, [Brook] thought it would be a better idea to build his own robot sailor from a Raspberry Pi and a Pebble smartwatch.

The sensors required for a sailing computer are par for the course – a Ublox GPS unit, a magnetometer, an acceleratometer, and a gyro. Being used on a sailboat also means there’s an anemometer thrown into the mix. These parts are stuffed into a waterproof polycarbonate field box with a USB power bank battery and a Bluetooth USB dongle.

With the hardware in place, it was time to write the software. The UI for this device is a Pebble smartwatch, which means there was a lot of futzing around with C# and Mono. This device is also a sailing data recorder, meaning [Brook] can integrate this project with VisualSail, a desktop application he wrote a few years ago to create 3D replays of sailing races using GPS data.


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Printing a boat made out of milk jugs

Today, groups from all over the Pacific Northwest will take up their oars and head over to Green Lake for the 42nd annual Seafair Milk Carton derby. The team who builds the fastest boat made out of milk cartons wins the regatta (and $10,000). This year, we’d put our money on the 3D printer group from the University of Washington; they printed a boat large enough to carry a person using crushed melted milk jugs.

After building a huge extruder to feed shredded HDPE plastic through a nozzle, the team repurposed an old plasma cutter to serve as an 8-foot-long 3D printer. There were a number of problems the team ran into – getting layers to fuse together, finding a suitable printing surface, and perfecting the art of squeezing melted milk jugs through a heated metal tube – but the final result is impressive, to say the least.

As far as how lake-worthy the UW team’s boat is, we have no idea. The milk jug regatta will be held later today, and if you have an update of how the team fared, send us a tip.