Hacker Challenge: Sail the Atlantic

We found it incredible that — apparently — no one has sailed an autonomous sailboat across the Atlantic successfully. Compared to an electric craft, sail-powered platforms ought to reduce having to carry batteries or other fuel and enable long-duration missions. The problem, of course, is the sailing conditions in the Atlantic.

The challenge is the focus of the Microtranssat challenge which started in 2010. You can think of the challenge as a race, but not in the conventional sense. Participants can launch their 8 foot (or less) craft any time between July and December, and it doesn’t matter which direction they go. They simply have to cross the Atlantic. If more than one boat makes it, the fastest is the winner.

The current leader is the SailBuoy. This Norwegian entry has made it halfway, but no further. However, it has sailed quite a distance in other places, so perhaps it will make it soon. You can see SailBuoy afloat in the video below.

Continue reading “Hacker Challenge: Sail the Atlantic”

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.

Continue reading “Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring”

Automate the Freight: Robotic Deliveries Are on the Way

Seems like all the buzz about autonomous vehicles these days centers around self-driving cars. Hands-free transportation certainly has its appeal – being able to whistle up a ride with a smartphone app and converting commute time to Netflix binge time is an alluring idea. But is autonomous personal transportation really the killer app that everyone seems to think it is? Wouldn’t we get more bang for the buck by automating something a little more mundane and a lot more important? What about automating the shipping of freight?

Look around the next time you’re not being driven to work by a robot and you’re sure to notice a heck of a lot of trucks on the road. From small panel trucks making local deliveries to long-haul tractor trailers working cross-country routes, the roads are lousy with trucks. And behind the wheel of each truck is a human driver (or two, in the case of team-driven long-haul rigs). The drivers are the weak point in this system, and the big reason I think self-driving trucks will be commonplace long before we see massive market penetration of self-driving cars.

Continue reading “Automate the Freight: Robotic Deliveries Are on the Way”