Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring

[Andy Osusky]’s project submission for the Hackaday Prize is to build an autonomous sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. [Andy]’s boat will conform to the Microtransat Challenge – a transatlantic race for autonomous boats. In order to stick to the rules of the challenge, [Andy]’s boat can only have a maximum length of 2.5 meters, and it has to hit the target point across the ocean within 25 kilometers.

The main framework of the boat is built from aluminum on top of a surfboard, with a heavy keel to keep it balanced. Because of the lightweight construction, the boat can’t sink and the heavy keel will return it upright if it flips over. The sail is made from ripstop nylon reinforced by nylon webbing and thick carbon fiber tubes, in order to resist the high ocean winds.

The electronics are separated into three parts. A securely sealed Pelican case contains the LiFePo4 batteries, the solar charge controller, and the Arduino-based navigation controller. The communications hardware is kept in polycarbonate cases for better reception. One case contains an Iridium satellite tracker, compass, and GPS, the other contains two Globalstar trackers. The Iridium module allows the boat to transmit data via the Iridium Short Burst Data service. This way, data such as GPS position, wind speed, and compass direction can be transmitted.

[Andy]’s boat was launched in September from Newfoundland headed towards Ireland. However, things quickly seemed to go awry. Storms and crashes caused errors and the solar chargers seemed not to be charging the batteries. The test ended up lasting about 24 days, during which the boat went almost 1000km.

[Andy] is redesigning the boat, changing to a rigid sail and enclosing the hardware inside the boat. In the meantime, the project is open source, so the hardware is described and software is available on GitHub. Be sure to check out the OpenTransat website, where you can see the data from the first sailing. Also, check out this article on autonomous kayaks, and this one about a swarm of autonomous boats.

11 thoughts on “Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring

    1. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure that there is some sort of protocol that basically says “Try to contact the owner if it’s busted, but otherwise just treat it like normal salvage”

  1. Any chance to see the actual source code? Unfortunately the Github repositories only contain some libraries, header definitions and test code but not the actual code running the boat (e.g. the navigation engine, communication code, battery/power management, the software running on the Linux board, …).

  2. Imagine a fleet of these criss-crossing the world’s oceans, gathering valuable data for marine biology and climatology, keeping watch for wayward airliners, etc. Lots of potential.

    1. There are several already. The advantage of the Wave Glider is that it is not dependent on wind. As long as there are even small waves it can make headway, subject to current. Sailing can go more quickly, but then a model airplane has already crossed the Atlantic autonomously in under 40 hours, so speed is already there.

  3. What was the point of that video? Why do so many projects on HaD have a video clip maybe 15 seconds long that tells us absolutely nothing about the project, and has maybe 5 seconds total where the camera is actually pointed at the project in question?

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