ArduRover Boat Uses Tupperware To Float

There’s nothing quite like the sight of a plastic box merrily sailing its way around a lake to symbolise how easy it is to get started in autonomous robotics. This isn’t a project we’re writing about because of technical excellence, but purely because watching an autonomous tupperware box navigate a lake by itself is surprisingly compelling viewing. The reason that [rctestflight] built the vessel was to test out the capabilities of ArduRover. ArduRover is, of course, a flavour of the extremely popular open source ArduPilot, and in this case is running on a Pixhawk.

The hardware itself is deliberately as simple as possible: two small motors with RC car ESCs, a GPS, some power management and a telemetry module are all it takes. The telemetry module allows the course/mission to be updated on the fly, as well as sending diagnostic data back home. Initially, this setup performed poorly; low GPS accuracy combined with a high frequency control loop piloting a device with little inertia lead to a very erratic path. But after applying some filtering to the GPS this improved significantly.

Despite the simplicity of the setup, it wasn’t immune to flaws. Seaweed in the prop was a cause of some stressful viewing, not to mention the lack of power required to sail against the wind. After these problems caused the boat to drift off course past a nearby pontoon, public sightings ranged from an illegal police drone to a dog with lights on its head.

If you want to use your autonomous boat for other purposes than scaring the public, we’ve written about vessels that have been used to map the depth of the sea bed, track aircraft, and even cross the Atlantic.

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Building An RC Air Boat From Garbage

What do you get when you combine an old optical drive, some empty soda bottles, and a microcontroller? Well…nothing, really. That’s still just a pile of rubbish. But if you add in a battery, an RC receiver, and some motors, you’re getting dangerously close to a fun little toy to kick around the pond as [Antonio Rizzo] recently demonstrated.

A couple of plastic bottles lashed together make up the hull of the boat, and [Antonio] has used the internal frame of an old optical drive bent at a 90 degree angle to hold the two small DC motors. In a particularly nice touch, the drive’s rubber anti-vibration bushings are reused as motor mounts, though he does admit it was just dumb luck that the motors were a perfect fit.

For the electronics, [Antonio] has paired a custom motor controller up with the uChip, a diminutive Arduino-compatible microcontroller in a narrow DIP-16 package. Wireless communication is provided by an off-the-shelf cPPM receiver such as you might see used in a small plane or quadcopter.

The whole build is powered by a common 18650 lithium-ion battery, which could also be easy enough to recover from the trash given how common they are in laptop batteries; though if you threw a new cell into this build we wouldn’t hold it against you. Everything is put into a high-tech plastic sandwich bag to provide minimum of waterproofing with the minimum of effort.

If using a commercial RC receiver and transmitter is a bit too mainstream for your tastes, you could always roll your own radio.

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Electrifying A Vintage Outboard Motor

Clamped or bolted to the stern of the boat, outboard motors offer a very easy and (relatively) economical way of powering small craft. The vast majority of these outboards are gasoline powered, with electric models generally limited to so-called “trolling motors” which are often used to move slowly and quietly during fishing. That might be fine for most people, but not [Olly Epsom].

An engineer focusing on renewable energy by profession, [Olly] wanted to equip his small inflatable dinghy with a suitably powerful “green” propulsion system. Deciding nothing on the market quite met his requirements, especially for what manufacturers were charging, he decided to convert an old gas outboard to electric. Not only did he manage to do it for less money than a turn-key system would have cost, but he ended up with a system specifically geared to his exact requirements. Something he says will come in handy if he ever gets around to converting the dinghy to remote control so he can use it as a wildlife photography platform.

Put simply, an outboard motor consists of a gasoline engine with a vertical shaft that’s coupled to a right-angle gearbox with a propeller on the end. Beyond that they’re a fairly “dumb” piece of gear, so replacing the engine on top with something else should be (at least in theory) a pretty simple job. Especially on the small older model that [Olly] decided to use as a donor unit. The 1974 Johnson 2 HP motor didn’t have any tricky electronics in it to contend with; the thing didn’t even have a clutch.

Once [Olly] had removed the old gas engine from the top of the outboard, he designed an adapter plate in OnShape and had it cut out of aluminum so he could mount a beefy 1 kW 48 V brushless electric motor in its place. Connecting the new electric motor to the carcass of the outboard actually ended up being simpler than putting the original motor on, as this time around he didn’t need to reconnect the cooling pumps which would usually pull water from down by the propeller and recirculate it through the engine.

While the mechanical aspects of this project are certainly cool, we’re especially interested in the control system for this newly electric outboard. It uses a 3.2 inch Nextion color touch screen and Arduino Nano to provide a very slick looking digital “dashboard” which can convey motor status and other information at a glance. Unfortunately, [Olly] says the details on that part of the project will be saved for a future post, leaving us with only a single picture of the system’s interface for us to drool over until then.

We’ve seen the occasional seafaring project that made use of an electric trolling motor, and we’ve even seen an electric drill put in some overtime spinning a prop in the water. Converting gasoline boat over to electric is however a rarity. But much like electric car conversions, such projects may become more common as the cost and complexity of powerful electric propulsion systems continues to fall.

[Thanks to Alex for the tip.]

Spend All Day On The Lake

Solar vehicles are getting more and more common as the price of solar panels comes down, and the availability of motors and controllers for all of these vehicles rises. Making a solar-electric bike from a kit is one thing, but this solar-powered boat is a master class in hacking at all levels, from the solar drive train to the pontoons, and even the anchor.

[J Mantzel] has many videos about his boat on his channel, and watching them all will likely leave you wanting to build your own. He builds almost everything on his boat from scratch from things he has lying around. For example, the anchor was hand-built from fiberglass and then filled with concrete, and his steering system is a semi-complex system of ropes, pulleys, and shafts. Most of the boat’s shell was hand-built from fiberglass as well, and everything that can be repurposed is saved for later use.

The ten panels, batteries, inverter, and other miscellaneous part of the system were about half of the cost of the whole vessel, but he reports that he also uses the boat as a backup power source for his house, and can use the system to run other things like an electric chainsaw for example. He also uses the boat for camping and construction, and without having to worry about fuel it has been very useful to him.

If you get into the videos on the channel, you’ll find that this isn’t his only solar-powered boat. He recently completed a solar speedboat as well with a custom-built propeller that can really move across the water. His videos are apparently very popular as well, since they have been linked to repeatedly by readers in some of the recent solar vehicle write-ups we’ve published.

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Go Up A Creek Without A Paddle

Kayaks are a some of the most versatile watercraft around. You can fish from them, go on backpacking trips, or just cruise around your local lake for a few hours. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, don’t require fuel, and typically don’t require a license or insurance to operate. They also make a great platform for a solar-powered boat like this one with only 150 watts of panels and a custom-built motor with parts from an RC airplane.

[William Frasier] built his solar-powered kayak using three solar panels, two mounted across the bow of the boat using pontoons to keep them from dipping into the water, and the other mounted aft. Separating the panels like this helps to prevent all three of them being shaded at once when passing under bridges. They’re all wired in parallel to a 12V custom-built motor which is an accomplishment in itself. It uses custom-turned parts from teak, a rot-resistant wood, is housed in an aluminum enclosure, and uses an RC airplane propeller for propulsion.

Without using the paddles and under full sun, the kayak can propel itself at about 4 knots (7 kmh) which is comparable to a kayak being propelled by a human with a paddle. With a battery, some of the shading problems could be eliminated, and adding an autopilot to it would make it almost 100% autonomous.

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Foam Airboat Is Cheap RC Fun

Archer fans and residents of Louisiana will already be familiar with the concept of the airboat. Put a powerful engine running an aircraft prop on a flat-bottomed hull, and you’ve got an excellent way to traverse the marshes of the American South. While a fully-fledged airboat might run you the best part of $100,000, this no-frills radio-controlled version is great fun at a much lower price.

The hull is built on a sheet of foam, which is cheap, readily available, and suitably buoyant for the task. It’s then kitted out with a brushless motor to run the prop and a servo to control the rudder. Lace it up with a radio receiver and speed controller and you’re good to go.

The build could readily be completed in well under a couple of hours, and is a great one to tackle with kids due to its mechanical simplicity. There’s room for extra creativity too – you can always substitute a watermelon if you’re feeling peckish. Video after the break. Continue reading “Foam Airboat Is Cheap RC Fun”

Hacking When It Counts: Setting Sail In A Submarine

By the early 20th century, naval warfare was undergoing drastic technological changes. Ships were getting better and faster engines and were being outfitted with wireless communications, while naval aviation was coming into its own. The most dramatic changes were taking place below the surface of the ocean, though, as brave men stuffed themselves into steel tubes designed to sink and, usually, surface, and to attack by stealth and cunning rather than brute force. The submarine was becoming a major part of the world’s navies, albeit a feared and hated one.

For as much animosity as there was between sailors of surface vessels and those that chose the life of a submariner, and for as vastly different as a battleship or cruiser seems from a submarine, they all had one thing in common: the battle against the sea. Sailors and their ships are always on their own dealing with forces that can swat them out of existence in an instant. As a result, mariners have a long history of doing whatever it takes to get back to shore safely — even if that means turning a submarine into a sailboat.

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