The Little 3D-Printed Tugboat That Could

If you’ve ever spent time watching the goings-on at a seaport, you must have seen tugboats at work: those little boats that push, pull and nudge enormous cargo ships through tight corners in the harbor. They manage to do that thanks to hugely powerful engines sitting inside their relatively small hulls; their power-to-tonnage ratio can be ten times that of most commercial ships.

One hardware hacker who enjoys building similarly-overpowered machinery is [Luis Marx], and it might not come as a surprise that his latest project is an actual tugboat. Living on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany, [Luis] likes to spend time on the water, but got fed up with the chore of paddling. Local regulations restrict the use of outboard motors but allow the use of R/C model boats; therefore, building an R/C tugboat to move yourself around the lake should be perfectly legal.

While we’re not sure if the Lake Constance Police will follow the same reasoning, [Luis]’s model tugboat is a wonderful piece of engineering. With a design inspired by 3DBenchy, the standard 3D printer benchmark that probably anyone with a 3D printer has printed at some point, it took about 30 hours to create the parts plus a generous helping of epoxy resin to make it all waterproof. A beefy lithium-ion battery pack drives two brush-less DC motors designed for racing drones, which together can put out nearly one kilowatt of power.

That, unfortunately, turned out to be way more than the little boat could handle: any attempt at using it simply caused it to leap out of the water and land on its back. Setting the motor controller to around 50% made it much more controllable, yet still strong enough to move [Luis] around on his standup paddle board. The boat is controlled through a custom-made handheld R/C controller that communicates with the ESP8266 inside the boat through WiFi. With no rudder, left-right control is effected by simply reducing the power of one motor by half.

A fully-charged battery pack provides enough juice for about 40 minutes of tugging, so it’s probably a good idea to bring along paddles in any case. Unless, of course, you’ve also got a solar-powered autonomous tugboat ready to come to your rescue.

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Dave went from a passive decoy to a high-speed boating machine.

Dave The Drive-able Duck Does Donuts

[Hey Jude] is tired of the machismo dripping from most modern electronic toys, especially stuff like monster trucks and police/military sets. He grew up on weird stuff, not aggression, and wanted to share the experience of kit-bashing a new toy together alongside his son.

This is essentially an R/C boat stuffed into a decoy duck, but there’s more to it than that. After removing the ballast that made him stay upright, [Hey Jude] performed plastic surgery on both sides of Dave the duck, creating a boat-shaped hole in the bottom, and a hinged bonnet out of the top which serves as an access panel for the boat’s innards. Everything is sealed up with Sugru, though you could probably use caulk or even hot glue (if you wanted something more temporary and less expensive).

The smartest bit has to be the loop on Dave’s back — this makes it easy to lower him into a pond from a footbridge, or rescue him if he stalls in the middle of the water. Check out the footage of Dave’s maiden voyage after the break.

Remote control of things will never get old. Do you have an old Nintendo Zapper lying around? Why not make it do your home automation bidding?

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