Software-defined radio came on the hacker scene in a big way less than a decade ago thanks to the discovery that a small USB-based TV tuner dongle could be used for receiving all kinds of radio transmissions. Two popular projects from that era are tracking nearby airplanes and boats in real time. Of course, these projects rely on different frequencies and protocols, but if you live in a major port city like [Ian] then his project that combines both into a single user interface might be of interest.
This project uses an RTL-SDR dongle for the marine traffic portion of the project, but steps up to a FlightAware Pro dongle for receiving telemetry from airplanes. Two separate antennas are needed for this, and all of the information is gathered and handled by a pair of Raspberry Pis. The Pis communicate with various marine and air traffic databases as well as handles the custom user interface that knits both sets of information together. This interface was custom-built from a previous project of his and was repurposed slightly to fit the needs of this one.
This is a great project that goes into a lot of interesting detail about how the web traffic moves and how the UI works, so even if you’re not into software-defined radio it might be worth a look. However, it’s also worth noting that it hasn’t been easier to set up a system like this thanks to the abundance and low price of RTL-SDR dongles and the software tools that make setting them up a breeze.
Typically in the RC community, radio control boats rely on small nitro engines or electric motors to get around. Fitted with traditional propellers, they’re capable of great speed and performance. Of course, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as [Integza] shows with his latest build.
As far as the boat side of things is concerned, it’s a basic 3D printed single hull design. The innovation comes in the drivetrain, instead. The boat uses compressed air for propulsion, stored in a battery of four soda bottles, pressurized to 6 bar. The compressed air is used to drive a Tesla turbine of [Integza]’s design, which is 3D printed on a resin printer. Rather then driving a propeller, the Tesla turbine instead turns a Lily impeller, which pulls the boat through the water rather than pushing it along. The impeller uses a nature-inspired design, hence the name, and was also 3D printed, making producing its complex geometry a cinch. The guts of a toy radio control car are then used to control the boat.
Understandably, performance is less than stellar. The limited reserves of compressed air can’t propel the boat long, and the combination of the high RPM Tesla turbine and Lily impeller don’t provide a lot of thrust. However, the boat does move under its own power, demonstrating these oddball technologies while doing so.
Only few cinematic moments were as traumatically heartbreaking as [Mufasa]’s death in The Lion King and [Wilson]’s demise in Cast Away. To think, if only [Tom Hanks]’ character had found a role roll of stretch wrap in the washed up cargo content, he could have built a vessel with enough room to safely store his faithful companion. Sounds unlikely? Well, [sg19point3] begs to differ, and has a kayak to prove it.
It’s as brilliant as its construction materials are simple: tree branches, packing tape, and of course the stretch wrap. [sg19point3] used two different types of branches, one that bends just enough to shape the kayak in its length, and a more flexible variety to form the rings that hold it all together. After removing the bark, he shaped the branches as needed using some pegs in the ground, and let it dry for a few days. Once ready, he put them together and stabilized the construct with packing tape until it was ready for the grand finale of wrapping the entire thing in several layers of plastic wrap. To prove he trusts his own construct, he took it for a ride to the nearest water and lived to tell the tale — and to make a video about it, which is embedded after the break.
Admittedly, putting it together all by yourself on a remote island may be a bit laborious after all, so good thing [sg19point3] had some friends to help with the wrapping. Whether you’d want to take it beyond your local, shallow pond is maybe another story — you’d definitely want to steer clear of sharp rocks. For something more sturdy, check out the 3D-printed kayak from a few years ago. But in case you prefer wood, here’s a beautiful canoe.
Coroplast (short for corrugated plastic) is an interesting material. It has a structure similar to cardboard, but since it’s plastic it’s waterproof and can be used for a unique set of applications. It’s typically used for political yard signs, but there are more fun things to do with this lightweight material than advertise. [Paul Elkins], for example, uses it to make speedboats.
The boats that [Paul] builds make use of a piece of coroplast which he cuts and folds into a basic hull shape. From there he begins to assemble the other things needed to finalize the boat, including strengthening the shape with wood, adding a steering wheel, building a transom to mount the motor to, and placing controls in the cockpit such as throttle and steering. The entire build is enough to propel a single person on a body of water at about five knots, which is impressive.
To make one of these yourself you’ll need a small outboard motor, but all of the other details of the build are outlined clearly in his series of videos. If you want to build your own boat but don’t like the idea of a noisy two-stroke motor right behind you, you can also look into building a boat with a silent mode of propulsion.
And if you’ve got a good supply of Coro, definitely check out [Paul]’s other projects, including a tiny house.
We’re not sure how many of you out there own a boat large enough to get its own integrated computer network, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if you can’t use this project personally, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the work [mgrouch] has put into the “Bareboat Necessities” project. From the construction of the hardware to the phenomenal documentation, there’s plenty that even landlubbers can learn from this project.
In its fully realized form, the onboard computer system includes several components that work together to provide a wealth of valuable information to the operator.
What [mgrouch] calls the “Boat Computer” contains a Raspberry Pi 4, a dAISy AIS receiver, an RTL-SDR, a GPS receiver, serial adapters, and the myriad of wires required to get them all talking to each other inside a weatherproof enclosure. As you might expect, this involves running all the connections through watertight panel mounts.
Combined with a suite of open source software tools, the “Boat Computer” is capable of interfacing with NMEA sensors and hardware, receive weather information directly from NOAA satellites, track ships, and of course plot your current position on a digital chart. The computer itself is designed to stay safely below deck, while the operator interacts with it through an Argonaut M7 waterproofed HDMI touch screen located in the cockpit.
For some people, that might be enough. But for those who want to do big, [mgrouch] further details the “Boat Gateway” device. This unit contains an LTE-equipped WiFi router running OpenWrt and all the external antennas required to turn the boat into a floating hotspot. Of course it also has RJ45 jacks to connect up to the other components of the onboard system, and it even includes an M5Stack Core with LAN module so it can display a select subset of sensor readings and navigational data.
One of the biggest problems of owning an older boat (besides being a money pit – that is common to all boats regardless of age) is the lack of parts and equipment, and the lack of support for those parts if you can find them at all. Like most things, this is an area that can benefit greatly from some open source solutions, which the Open Boat Projects in Germany has been able to show. (Google Translate from German)
This group has solutions for equipment problems of all kinds for essentially any sized boat. At their most recent expo, many people were interested in open source solutions for situations where there is currently only an expensive proprietary option, such as support for various plotting devices. This isn’t the only part of this project, though. It includes many separate projects, like their solutions for autopilot and navigation. There are even complete hardware packages available, all fully documented.
Open source solutions for large, expensive things like this are often few and far between for a number of reasons. There are limited options for other modes of open source transportation too, as it seems like most large companies are not willing to give up their secrets easily. Communities like this, however, give us hope that people will have other options for repairing their vehicles without having to shell out too much money.
Messing about in boats has always held a curious appeal for the hardware hacker. Perhaps that’s because it remains an approachable way to make something that moves under its own power with a bit of speed, and barring calamities, the worst that can happen to the unwary boater is a soaking. [NASAT Channel] is a Vietnamese hacker who is a serial producer of small motorised boats, and one of his latest is a particularly impressive example.
The boat itself is a relatively conventional expanded polystyrene hull covered with fiberglass, but the motive power is something a little special. He’s taken eight of the ubiquitous 775 DC brushed motors and used them in a star configuration with beveled gears, which in turn drives a flexible shaft which goes straight to a propeller under the craft. Each motor shares a water cooling pipe serviced by a small pump, and the drive comes from a pair of cheap PWM motor controllers. We see him zipping up and down a stretch of river next to some moored boats, and if we’re honest, we wouldn’t mind a go ourselves.
We’re not entirely convinced such a rough-and-ready eight-way gearbox will be reliable for long-term use, and we’d be interested to know just how equally so many motors are actually sharing the load. But we like it for its sheer audacity, and we think you will too. Take a look at the video below the break, and if you’re inspired then grab a hammock, some friends, and have a go.