Canary Island Team Wins World Robotic Sailing 2016

If you’re like us, you had no idea that there even was a World Robotic Sailing Championship. But we’re glad that we do now! And congratulations to the team of A-Tirma G2, the winning boat. (Link in Spanish, difficult to translate — if you can figure out how, post in the comments?)

The Championship has apparently been going on for nine years now, and moves to a different location around the world each year. The contests for 2016 (PDF) are by no means trivial. Besides a simple there-and-back regatta, the robot boats have to hold position, scan a prescribed area, and avoid a big obstacle and return quickly back to their lane. All of this with wind power, of course.

The winning boat used solid sails, which act essentially as vertical wings, and was designed for rough weather. This paid off in the area-scanning test; the winds were so strong that the organizers considered calling it off, but team A-Tirma’s boat navigated flawlessly, giving them enough points to win the event even though camera malfunction kept them from completing the obstacle avoidance.

stationkeepingtrackingUnless you’ve sailed, it’s hard to appreciate the difficulty of these challenges to an autonomous vehicle. It’s incredibly hard to plan far ahead because the boat’s motive power source, the wind, isn’t constant. But the boat has, relatively speaking, a lot of inertia and no brakes, so the robot has to plan fairly far in advance. That any of the 2-4 meter long boats could stay inside a circle of 20 meters is impressive. Oh, and did we mention that A-Tirma did all of this calculating and reacting on solar power?

Because the wind is so fickle, drone sailboats are much less popular than drone motorboats — at least using the Hackaday Blogpost Metric ™. The hackerboat project is trying out sails, but they’re still mostly working on powered propulsion. We do have an entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize, but it’s looking like the development process is in the doldrums. Still, sailing is the best way to go in the end, because windpower is essentially free on the open ocean, which means less work for the solar panels.

As far as role-models go, you’ve basically got the entrants in the World Robotic Sailing Championships. So kudos to the A-Tirma team, and thanks [Nikito] for the tip!

10 thoughts on “Canary Island Team Wins World Robotic Sailing 2016

    1. The funny thing about sailing boats, is that they are the vehicle with the most bolt on automation available, have been for many years. Typically a decade or so ago, autonomy would be limited to sailing an open water course, and bleeping in a panic stricken manner to wake the Cap’n if the wind backed round too much or an obstacle or vessel was detected on radar.

      The reason for this was because millionaire sailboat owners could pay for it. You can take a 50,000 sailboat and spend almost as much on the systems.

      Recently, there has been a more low end vibe to marine automation, with people replacing $4000 chart plotters with $400 iPads with GPS. So the regular joe on the water is probably going to be willing to get into arduino controlled this and that real soon.

      I guess this seems like “no news” given achievements in sailboat autonomy over the last couple of decades, but of course these challenges demonstrate automated handling in far closer quarters than the more common autopilot/cruise-control type that has been available in sophistication levels according to how many zeroes you wanted to write on the check for some time.

      1. Very, very few of those systems are able to autonomously tack or even trim the sails — the best they can do is hold a course relative to the compass or the wind. Those that can do that are six to seven figure (or higher) custom jobs.

        Interestingly, the short-handed/single-handed crowd started tinkering with purely mechanical self-steering rigs before WWII. They hold the boat at a constant angle to the wind through use of a weathervane. It turns a servo tab in the water, which in turn generates enough force from the boat’s forward movement to move the rudder.

        The sort of boats participating the WRSC are able to sail entirely autonomously, which is a somewhat different kettle of fish.

  1. Just to give a glimpse of the contents of the spanish site, I’m posting this Google translation (made via cut & paste); it is not perfect but I think that it conveys the general meaning acceptably.

    Best regards,


    El Canario Team Autonomous Sailing was the first in the category of Sailboats, sailboat 2 to 4 meters in length.

    The WRSC 2016 was held at the mouth of the Lima River, in the city of Viana do Castelo, Portugal, from 5 to 10 September (

    To generate the score in an objective, a “trackers” were installed on ships piled up position data (latitude and longitude) during the test. Then, an algorithm analyzing the trajectories and scores are automatically generated.

    A-Tirma G2 opposite the mouth of the Lima River.

    The first day of testing the fleet race was held in very difficult conditions for most boats. The strong current of the river and little wind made navegasen boats further back than forward.
    Only crew boat Franco-Finnish HA-EB, very light and large sail area, managed to pass the test.

    Crew boat HA-EB

    The second day, with a little more wind, the organization shifts the test area to an area less affected by the current. tests “Station Keeping”, ability to stay in a certain position are performed.
    The HA-EB returns to get the best result, followed closely by A-Tirma G2 ULPGC.

    A-Tirma G2 2nd day of testing.

    Tracking test.

    The third day forecast warns the strong wind. Dawns calm, but with the advance of the day are exceeded 20 knots. With these harsh conditions posed by the organization to suspend the test scanning area. The team proposes ULPGC go overboard with A-Tirma G2, designed to sail in strong winds.
    The work done by the team to develop a good navigation control has its reward. An excellent test, completing 100% of sectors of the scanning area, give a deserved first place the team of Jorge Cabrera, Antonio Dominguez and Angel Ramos.

    Tracking Test by A-Tirma G2.

    A-Tirma G2 sailing during the test.

    The fourth and final day of testing the wind again be lazy, but less current expected due to the lower height of tides. A-Tirma G-2 test starts collision avoidance, but a fault prevents the camera is completed with success. After solving the problem and try to repeat the test, the organization of the championship does not allow another attempt. Still, the result keeps score leadership.

    The hard work done and the hours spent on all preparations have finally yielded the expected results. Success in this event will serve as an incentive to continue working on future challenges, among which is the oceanic navigation.

    As a final detail we can note that throughout the competition only solar energy is used to recharge the batteries of the boat.

  2. If you want to get started on this, there is also a smaller class (up to 1.5m), we (the Southampton Sailing Robot Team) won the 2016 championship on a more traditional sailing boat and have documented some parts of our project (and more to come) on a page (, moreover the code is fully available on github (

  3. Spanish native, learning english, half an hour of spare time, hope I can help. Sorry for mistakes.

    September 12th 2016
    A-Tirma G2: Champion of the World Robotic Sailing Championship 2016

    The Canarian Team of Autonomous Sail Navigation ended first in the Sailboats category, for sailboats between 2 and 4 meters long.

    The WRSC 2016 took place in the mouth of the Limia river, in the portuguese town of Viana Do Castelo, from the 5th to the 10th of September.

    To provide an objetive scoring scheme, trackers were installed in the boats to store the position (latitude and longitude) along the trials. Afterwards, an algorithm analysed the trajectories, and the scores were automatically generated.

    [Image] A-Tirma G2 boat facing the Limia river mouth.

    On the first day of trials, the fleet race took place under very hard conditions for most of the boats. The strong river current and the little wind made boats navigate more often backwards than forward. Only the boat by the french-finnish team HA-EB, very light and with a great sail surface, passed the test.

    [Image] Boat by the HA-EB team.

    On the second day, with a little more wind, the organization moved the racing area to a place less influenced by the currents. The station-keeping tests took place, checking the boat’s ability to stay on a predetermined position. The HA-EB team got again the best results, followed very closely by the A-Tirma G2 team from the ULPGC (University of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria).

    [Image] A-Tirma G2 on the second day of trials.
    [Image] Tracking of the test.

    On the third day, strong winds are expected. Things are calm at dawn, but later on the day the wind blows at more than 20 knots. Under these hard conditions, the organization plans to cancel the area-scanning trials. The team from ULPGC offers to take to the water its A-Tirma G2 boat, designed to navigate under strong winds.

    [Image] Tracking of the performance by A-Tirma G2.
    [Video] A-Tirma G2 navigating during the tests.

    The work made by the team to develop a good navigation control pays off. An excellent performance, scanning 100% of the area, gives the winning position to this team by Jorge Cabrera, Antonio Domínguez and Angel Ramos.

    On the fourth and last day, the winds were light again, although less current was expected due to the lower amount of tide. A-Tirma G2 starts the collission-avoidance test, but a camera failure doesn’t allow it to complete it successfully. After solving the problem, this team asks to repeat the test, but the championship organization doesn’t allow it. Even though, the leading position is kept.

    The hard work and the long hours invested on the making have finally given the expected results. The success on this event will boost the motivation for future challenges, oceanic navigation among them.

    As a final note, we can say that, all through the competition, only solar energy was used to reload the boat batteries.

    [Image] Angel, Jorge and Antonio.

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