A Green Powered Sailboat

Drones fill the sky raining hellfire on unsuspecting civilians below. Self-driving cars only cause half as many accidents as carbon-based drivers. Autonomous vehicles are the future, no matter how bleak that future is. One thing we haven’t seen much of is autonomous marine vehicles, be they submarines, hovercrafts, or sailboats. That’s exactly what [silvioBi] is building for his entry into the Hackaday Prize: a sailboat that will ply the waters of Italy’s largest lake.

Every boat needs a hull, but this project will need much more, from electronics to solar panels to sensors. Luckily for [silvio], choosing a hull is as simple as heading over to eBay. [silvio] picked up a fiberglass boat hull for about €40 that fill fit both is needs and his workbench.

The electronics are a bit trickier, but the basic plan is to cover the deck with solar panels, and use a few sensors including GPS, IMU, and an anemometer to steer this sailboat around a lake. Building an autonomous vehicle is a hard challenge, and for the electronics, [silvio] has a trick up his sleeve: he’s using redundant electronics. All the sensors are connected via an I2C bus, so why not put two microcontrollers on that bus in a master and slave configuration? It won’t add much mass, and given the problems had by a few of the teams behind robotic sailing competitions, a bit of redundancy isn’t a bad thing to have.

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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.


The Raspberry Pi Zero contest is presented by Hackaday and Adafruit. Prizes include Raspberry Pi Zeros from Adafruit and gift cards to The Hackaday Store!
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Sailing With An Autopilot


After seeing an autopilot for a kayak a few days ago, [Mike] thought he should send in his version of a water-borne autopilot. Compared to something that fits in a one-man kayak, [Mike]’s creation is a monstrous device, able to keep a largeish sailboat on a constant heading.

To keep track of the ship’s bearing, [Mike] is using a very cool digital compass that uses LEDs to keep a steady heading. Also included is an amazingly professional and very expensive 6 axis IMU. To actually steer the ship, [Mike] is using a linear actuator attached to the tiller powered by a huge 60 Amp motor controller. The actuator only draws about 750 mA, but if [Mike] ever needs an autopilot for a container ship or super tanker, the power is right there.

For control, [Mike] ended up using an Arduino, 16-button keypad, and an LCD display. With this, he can put his autopilot into idle, calibration, and run modes, as well as changing the ship’s heading by 1, 10, and 100 degrees port or starboard.

From a day of sailing, [Mike] can safely say his autopilot works very well. It’s able to keep a constant heading going downwind, and even has enough smarts to tack upwind.

Videos below.

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Adding ePaper navigation data to a sailboat

[Mike Holden] has been on the hunt for a display that is easy to read in bright sunlight. He wants to use it to read out navigational data on his sail boat. The best option is an ePaper display. He managed to build a system that will feed updating NMEA 0183 data to a Nook Simple Touch.

NMEA 0183 is a protocol that governs data from marine navigational equipment. The most obvious is GPS, but there are a lot of possibilities like sonar, a gyrocompass, and an autopilot. To get things rolling he wrote an Arduino sketch which generates dummy packets using the standard. This let him develop and test the system without being near any of the real equipment. The heart of the build is a WiFi router. It pulls in the data over a USB port using an RS232 to USB converter cable. A Python script parses the data and generates a webpage which refreshes the data every second. This is loaded using Opera browser on the Nook

Check out the video after the break to see a demo of the system.

Continue reading “Adding ePaper navigation data to a sailboat”