THP Hacker Bio: Rusty Jehangir

[Rusty]’s project for the Hackaday Prize is extremely ambitious. He’s planning on sending an autonomous craft across the ocean, from LA to Hawaii, a distance that will end up being well over 2,500 miles The best part about this project? It’s already had some time in the ocean, cruising off the coast of southern California under its own power for a distance of 20km.

Why is [Rusty] doing this? Partly because he wanted to do something no one had ever done before. For him, this meant developing a cheap underwater thruster, building an autonomous solar-powered surfboard for a months-long voyage halfway across the Pacific. It’s a small step to the goal of exploring the deep ocean with his thruster and mostly off the shelf parts, but already [Rusty] has learned a lot about electronics in a marine environment and being confident enough to let a project go on its own for months at a time.

Interview below.

My hobby has always been engineering. It started when I was 4 years old and got a model train set. By the time I was 9 or 10, I was scratch building train cars and building 555 timer circuits for traffic lights on my layout. Since then, I’ve gone through a lot of hobby phases: computers, botany, music, model airplanes, real airplanes, microcontrollers, multicopters, and most recently marine robotics.

I’m a mechanical/aerospace engineer by education. Most of my career so far has been spent designing the electronics, software, and control systems for this:

I left that job a few months ago to start a marine robotics company, Blue Robotics. I love engineering, I love business, and I love my job.

I’m fortunate enough to be able to do what I love everyday! In fact, I don’t think I’d do a very good job if it wasn’t my passion. Besides that, I love flying. I’ve had my private pilots license for a few years and it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.

At the moment, it’s the Kickstarter page editor. Somehow, a few non-printable characters have made it into our Kickstarter page and they cause edits to show up in the wrong place, inserted images to show up at the bottom instead of where you want them, etc. It drives me crazy when I need to update something. I absolutely love Kickstarter but they need to fix that.

In terms of actual equipment, I’m not a fan any milling machine or lathe that isn’t properly aligned and doesn’t actually do what the digital read-out says (like ours).

Linux. I just wish there was good CAD software for it.

Hot-air soldering station. It’s such a versatile tool. From SMD assembly to regular soldering to heat shrinking, it’s always useful.

It blows my mind what you can do (and has been done) with the Atmega168/328/1280/2560 (aka Arduino). I’ve designed countless boards around them for all sorts of things.

C++ although I always go to Python when I need to do something quickly.

  • I’d like to successfully send our SolarSurfer from LA to Hawaii. It will be pretty incredible to watch it come to shore after months at sea.
  • I want to film the deep ocean with a relatively low-cost platform. Not sure of the specifics yet and I’m sure it’ll take some time to get there.
  • I’d like to do a long-distance trip with an ultralight solar-powered sUAS. Think flying wing, 3′ wingspan, 3D printed ribs and spars, less than 100 grams total. The hard part about this one is that you’d have to reach very high (and very illegal) altitudes to be able to glide through the night.

mapThe idea for the SolarSurfer came about simply because we were looking for something interesting that had never been done. We didn’t have much experience with marine robotics when we started but I had a lot of experience writing autopilots and working with the hardware we are using.

It’s turned into more than a hobby with the development of our thruster. We’re really excited to see what the future holds.

Where in Hawaii should we aim to land? I’ve never actually been there myself. This seems like a pretty good excuse to go.

I like the OpenBLDC controller because I’ve been working on something similar and I can appreciate the need for a good open-source controller. I also like the Goliath multicopter. Having flown a 4,400 lb multicopter, I can understand the challenges that you run into. I’m excited to see how the centralized engine approach works.

Our project is going great! We’re a bit delayed by all the work that gone along with our Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll be doing more tests in the near future. We’ve also got a live tracking/data interface in the works that will be publicly accessible online. We’re excited about that.

Thanks for the opportunity, Hackaday! We are honored to be among the top 50 projects. Make sure you check out our Kickstarter campaign for the T100 Underwater Thruster, which is used on the SolarSurfer.

18 thoughts on “THP Hacker Bio: Rusty Jehangir

  1. This is the exact same project as I’ve been wanting to do for years! But I’m in the Philippines and I know someone will just pluck it up out of the water before it gets that far :(

      1. Ignoring the ethics issues, a Taser only gives you one shot – which may fail to connect, or be shorted by seawater. I’d favor audio playback of an ominous warning. Backed up by a pepper spray turret if the warning is ignored.

  2. I suspect that they’ll need something bigger than any stock surf board for a deep-sea base vessel, and maybe for the California to Hawaii vehicle as well. Sharks apparently… “nibble” on stuff occasionally to figure out what it is (e.g., undersea data cables), so the platform needs to work despite that. Maybe a metal cage all of the way around the edge would work.

  3. “Atmega168/328/1280/2560 (aka Arduino)” ???? Come on! The atmel AVR microcontrollers were around a long time before the arduino platform was built on top of them. Yes, they are awesome microcontrollers. Arduino is just an abstract layer on top of those microcontrollers. You can do so much more without the arduino layer. I started with AVR microcontrollers 12 years ago, long before arduino existed. Avr is SOOOOOOO much more than just “(aka Arduino)”!!!!

  4. “he wanted to do something no one had ever done before.”
    “we were looking for something interesting that had never been done.”

    Don’t want to take away from his project or interview, but this is wrong. Several types of autonomous marine craft have made the California-Hawaii cruise already. Mostly a lot of Wave Gliders, a few undersea gliders and a few boats. For example, here’s one of the trips made by some Wave Gliders:

    In fact it’s common enough now that robotic groups are starting to up the ante and make it about speed:

    1. Hey Bill,

      We realize this has been done in different forms. Liquid Robotics SF to Australia trip was incredible.

      As far as we know, if we are successful, we will be the first to do it with solar power (vs. wave or sail) and the first that is propelled by a thruster. We also wanted to do it on a pretty small budget. The wave gliders are $$$.

      1. Ok, I think it’s on the HAD writer for not specifying you’d be the first boat ‘propelled by solar energy’ as opposed to you’d be the first ever. ‘Solar Powered’ is even ambiguous because the Sea Gliders are solar powered, for electronics and steering. I work in marine robotics and know some of the people involved with the early systems and would hate to see them discredited.

        So you know, at least one group of college kids has built and deployed a completely solar boat that would of made it to Hawaii from California based on it’s distance traveled (2500 miles), but was crossing the Atlantic and fell short of completing the trip.

        I’d recommend trying to contact them for any lessons learned you could use on your project before launch. It won’t hurt and could help you. I can tell you from experience your biggest challenge will be bio-fouling and not just from obvious things like floating vegetation. Solar boats move slow enough that barnacles and other sea life will start attaching to the hull, I’d recommend researching/experimenting with paint or finishes that will retard that from happening.

        Good luck!

  5. The only thing that really concerns me about something like this is how does one go about making sure that a project like this doesn’t become a potential navigation hazard. Tho I guess it is small enough that most ships in mid range would chew it up without even noticing it. Which brings the second point of concern how do you keep it from ending up as prop wash confetti? Just avoid major shipping lanes and hope for the best?

  6. Just want to point out that this is tagged as an ROV, but unless I missed something it is an AUV (ROV is tethered, AUV is untethered hence autonomous). I would at least add the AUV tag.

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