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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20 thoughts on “A Green Powered Sailboat

    1. Also:

      “Self-driving cars only cause half as many accidents as carbon-based drivers.” – Since it isn’t specified if this stat is per vehicle, or worldwide total, this could be interpreted as autonomous cars causing 33% of 1.3 million deaths and 20-50 million injuries per year.

      “Drones fill the sky raining hellfire on unsuspecting civilians below.” – If the autonomous cars don’t get you, the drones will.

      “A Green Powered Sailboat” – And in this hellish world, with drones almost completely blotting out the sun, surface-based robots can no longer utilize energy sources like solar. Instead they’ve adapted to somehow draw their energy from color, regardless of illumination.

      Damn those autonomous sailboat builders, with their redundant systems. They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could built it, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

  1. Wasn’t Steven K. Roberts working on something like this, except full size, after he’d done all his work on a recumbent bicycle? The one that was heavily loaded with electronics?

    And I thought John Todd, founder of The New Alchemists, started Ocean Arks to create modern sailing ships? Some things, it doesn’t matter how long the trip takes (the legendary slow boat to China) so sailing ships could be viable, especially if modernized with solar power and electronics to automate it all.


    1. This, without saying anything bad about captains anywhere, most (large western) boats just ‘boat around by themselves’, its only when they get to ports that a captain steps up (usually with help of some port-martial) and actually tells the crew/machinery where to put the boat.

  2. I think it would take a lot of computational power to know when/where/how to set the sails based on the boats location, destination, water currents, wind direction and speed.

    “Tacking off on a Northeast wind, sailing on summer breeze, skipping over the ocean like a stone.” Nihlsonn(sp?)

    1. Happily, while boat speed, current, and wind all combine to produce apparent you get to measure that directly using a vane and anemometer on the boat which is what you need to set the sail trim. Extracting current and true wind information from measurements for routing is the harder part but certainly not that difficult on something so small.

    2. Maybe if you’re trying to dead-reckon a setting that will take you all the way to your destination without further modfiication, it’d be difficult. If you’re happy to build a feedback loop that will steer you in the right direction, it’s fairly trivial. Heck, for short term steering you can keep a sailboat more-or-less straight with just a simple arrangement of pullies.

  3. A boat is comparatively easy, they just need to know direction of travel, location and wind direction. It’s not like a car where if the absolute position is off two feet the autonomous systems would freak out, it’s a boat and slow and they don’t pack into traffic like that.
    If they wanted to make this hack a LOT easier, just pick up an old autohelm with compass and anemometer. add in a separate control unit that takes gps data and has winches to furl and unfurl the sails and pull the boom about. Roller furlers are not too expensive and are convenient sail storage, and can be used with one motor and a block provided the motor reverses direction.
    The major challenge will be protecting everything from corrosion and water ingress, but commercial gear has been doing that for a few decades now, so it’s not like there isn’t existing examples to copy.

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