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.


42 thoughts on “An Autonomous Boat Across The Atlantic

  1. I see the problem here.
    The drone is obviously programmed to go exactly through the waypoints. Presumably the current/wind is making it difficult to navigate to pass through the waypoint now it is vertically above it.
    The drone needs some navigation refinement in that it should decide if it can carry on to the next waypoint if that is easier.
    v2 beefier motor?

    1. looking more at the behaviour, they are going to experience this more as they hit the transatlantic currents. As the drone tries to get to the waypoint, it will be pushed northward. If the drone passes the waypoint a little off, it will double back to go after it. I would imagine that given the right set of conditions, it might never hit it and start looking like an unstable PID loop.
      Thinking harder, the only waypoint you must absolutely pass through are the ones near hazards (rocks) and the last waypoint. Each waypoint should have a value that indicates how far the drone can pass by without needing to hit it exactly to stop it doubling back.

        1. Thanks, was disappointed that their blog page is broken and there’s no updates on their site. Hadn’t thought to check for a FB page (not to mention I typically avoid FB where possible ;-)

    2. Look like they dont’ take wind or current to calculations, look’s like only thing it uses for navigation is compass… and thats a big problem on long journeys. Compass also needs location based corrections and calibration.

      1. if they have their way points close enough wind and current won’t effect things too much. Also if they have GPS it gives them a compass heading that doesn’t need corrections or calibrations.

      1. Totally we should shut down the internets, shoot anyone that owns a tool and put the rest in nice, cozy, safe prison cells.

        Wait a second….THE HORROR!!! Both of us could get carpal tunnel syndrome by writing these comments! Safety is more important than anything else! We need to stop typing imme

  2. I imagined doing this years ago while mowing. Ok, didn’t have much else to think about. Go guys! (I imagined it sailing rather than motor powered so it didn’t need as much electric.) Since I live in Illinois and know nothing about the sea, I never made it :D

  3. A scout once went to Nantucket.
    It was headed for Spain but said “F*#k it”
    It made a sharp turn, its waypoints to spurn,
    for it was just a few servos in a bucket.

  4. I wonder how scout falls under the law at the moment. Since its unmanned and crippled under maritime law couldn’t someone just go and pick it up and claim salvage rights to it?

    1. Have to prove abandonment to legally salvage something (finding a ‘crippled’ boat on the beach without its owner aboard doesn’t mean that it’s yours.)

      1. On a beach is one thing, adrift at sea another. Adrift at sea its a navigational hazard and salvage laws are applied differently. Salvage rights doesn’t mean you own it either. It means you have the right to salvage and charge for your services (This sometimes can exceed value of the vessel however).

  5. We have been building one in NZ that is designed for a slightly longer voyage however we are having issues with the tracking side as the path we will be using takes it well out of the SPOT coverage area. We are also looking at bidirectional communications so we can upload new headings should it get lost or something fail.

    Sadly it appears that this one as lost its way, I suspect its drifting as a result of something getting stuck in the prop. We have abandoned the prop idea as in tests we were only able to get short distances in the sea before residue and buildup caused the prop to stop working as intended.

    1. So what are you going to use? Tail fin? Squid jet? Waving skin? I suppose any moving part could have same problem as propeller. Even the hull itself will suffer from it. Perhaps you should attack problem head on and think of ways to prevent the buildup, using some special surface finish, like Teflon or copper.

  6. I was thinking rudder control problems too when I saw the satellite track. It also looks like it may be having trouble with the Race which is the Long Island Sound interface to the Atlantic Ocean.

    To overcome screw fouling the USN uses shrouds over the screw (aka propeller). But on subs the screw is big and sharp and under strong power. However, a 12 vdc water pump configuration may work better. Cheap and readily available at hardware stores. It’s slow but very effective for forward motion. You could servo it and get rid of the rudder. Or just use two of them to statically control right/let direction and thrust. They definitely need bi-directional sat-phone control. Even JPL has that for it’s deep space probes to update mission profile.

    They could go pickup Scout by hiring a fishing boat out of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. They could have the skipper go fish it out of the sea. They only need to give him the present GPS coordinates and update him on his VHF radio or his cell phone. They do salvage like this all the time for flotsam.

    It would have been nice if these kids hired a USN consultant to help with seaworthiness planning. There’s a lot more hazards they did not foresee like wave and tidal swamping, biological interference (i.e., curious whales), shipping lanes, whirlpools, water spouts, sea-salt fouling of solar cells, etc.

    RE: Drug smuggling: They are way past this. They are using real submarines now. The DEA uses the USN to help track them.

    1. I guess i’m confused– you indicate their propeller, which according to their tracking page has gone ~3+ mph is not strong enough to overcome the Race, yet your suggestion is a self-proclaimed “slow” water pump?

      Seems to me like they were having no issues at all until their rudder mechanism broke, then obviously they are going to have issues as they can’t properly point to the waypoints.

      What is a USN consultant going to tell them about whales, whirlpools, waterspouts or tidal swamping they haven’t already figured out? Also, what can really be done to a tiny boat to avoid any of the aforementioned? Maybe my ignorance is bliss here, but give them a chance to relaunch and see how it does… It was looking fantastic until the failure point.

      Just my $.02

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