Please select your home edition
Edition
Rooster GETSEASMART 728x90 AUS

Robot sailboats to race across Atlantic

by Lewis Page, The Register on 12 Sep 2007
Roboat of Austria was the victor in 2006 and is frontrunner in 2007 SW
In the Irish Sea off Wales this week, a new kind of robot is taking to the waves. For once, this is not a military kill-droid or powered surveillance machine. Instead, we are seeing the debut of the fully-autonomous sailboat, which uses its own software to navigate out at sea.

For now the uninhabited windjammers will stay relatively close to home, but next year their successors will race across the Atlantic.

The salty tech challenge event is called Microtransat, and it was conceived by boffins Yves Briere of the Ensica engineering institute in Toulouse and Mark Neal of Aberystwyth Uni. There was an inaugural 2006 meet in France, and this year teams from Wales, Toulouse, Canada and Austria are competing. A Portuguese vessel couldn't get ready in time.

The 2007 rules are still relatively relaxed, allowing entrants to use vessels remotely controlled by a computer over a comms link or even just a remote-controlled boat; though these options lose a lot of points. The idea is to produce a vessel no longer than 4m (ordinary sailing dinghy size*).

The boat should be able to sail itself around waypoints without human input using no primary power other than sun and wind, though batteries may be carried.

Ultimately, the goal is to produce oceanographic survey platforms that could operate at sea for up to six months, probably sailing themselves out to areas of interest. They would send data back using satellite communications, and return periodically for repairs if possible; but their cost would be low enough that losses wouldn't be catastrophic. Existing, disposable oceanography buoys can cost $10,000 and last only a year or so before going out of service, apparently.

Races were carried out yesterday around triangular virtual courses off Aberystwyth, but most competitors were bedevilled by rough weather and technical snags.

Dr Neal told the Reg that the Austrian entry 'performed flawlessly,' but the other windjammer-bots all succumbed to problems and had to be retrieved by chase boats.

The French 'iBoat' contenders were particularly handicapped by arriving very late, after which it was found that their boat's GPS would only work correctly when east of the Greenwich zero meridian.

It should be noted, though, that even superfighter jets costing hundreds of millions are occasionally subject to this sort of snag.

Neal says that 'just surviving' in tough offshore conditions in the Irish Sea will represent a good effort, but adds that the Austrian front-runners may have a few surprises in store. 'They're playing it close to their chests so far,' he said.

A high failure rate in relatively short duration race like this might not bode well for next year's transatlantic voyage, but Neal at least is undaunted.

'We'll definitely enter something from Aberystwyth,' he says. Apparently the Welsh ocean-going sail-bot in 2008 will be based on a Topper dinghy, equipped with GPS, wind sensors and actuators for rudder and sails. There will be an Iridium satcomms modem allowing a two-way datalink, but its power requirements mean it will only be activated every few days.

Neal is confident overall regarding electrical power, saying that he plans to use flexible solar panels bonded to the decks for peak output of 60W and an average of 6W. The total power requirements should be only 3-4W, so there should be adequate juice: though it seems there are sometimes problems with seagull droppings covering the cells.

The main snags are mechanical failures in moving parts, and the risk of the tiny craft being mown down by inattentive big ships out at sea. Regarding the latter problem, says Neal, 'there isn't much you can do that isn't incredibly power hungry,' though the boats will carry radar reflectors.

How confident is Neal that the Aberystwyth robo-boat will actually make it to the Caribbean next year?

'Not terribly,' he says frankly. 'Fifty-fifty?'
Vaikobi 2019 - Footer 3Gul 2018 October - Code Zero AUST FOOTERNaiad 660x82px_Tourist

Related Articles

Royal Perth YC dinghy updates
An amazing atmosphere for the Monkey Fist Night Race on Saturday There was an amazing atmosphere for the Monkey Fist Night Race on Saturday with a big crowd on the lawn, music playing, entertainment for the smaller kids with the DD ice cream stand being a big hit!
Posted today at 2:10 am
Two additional skippers complete the GGR 2018
Golden Globe Race podium complete at last While it's tempting to get sucked into the latest round-the-buoys results from destinations exotic or far removed, it's also important to celebrate the hard work and dedication of the Golden Globe Race 2018 skippers.
Posted on 26 Mar
Gul Hikers = Happy Crew
3mm Code Zero HikeJohn aids the hiking process As a traditional trapeze crew, changing from the Fireball to the Merlin Rocket (an out and out hiking boat) was quite a shock!
Posted on 26 Mar
New foiler design with Rolex Sydney Hobart in mind
Capable of leading the 30m maxis over the 630 nautical mile course Twelve months work and investment from a highly experienced Australian group has led to the development of a 15.2 m fully foiling design intended for the 2019 RSHYR.
Posted on 26 Mar
Shake up Your Perception, It's a Rite of Passage
Rooster's team has brought its wealth of sailing intel to the world of bigger boats Rooster's team has brought its wealth of sailing intel to the world of bigger boats, heavier loads, fiercer waves and longer passages. This kit is intricately designed to repel the spray, fight the cold and last.
Posted on 26 Mar
Clipper Race circumnavigators return to paradise
For China's biggest offshore event British Clipper 2017-18 Race Circumnavigators, Mike Miller (50, from Windsor) and Glenn Manchett (53, from Cambridge), who raced on board the winning Sanya Serenity Coast team, have returned to China's tropical paradise this month
Posted on 26 Mar
Survival of the fastest on Newcastle Harbour
Fleet-footed roosters to be cock-a-hoop at SailFest Newcastle The fastest rooster on Newcastle Harbour will be crowned on Saturday March 30 when Port Hunter 16 Foot Skiff Sailing Club holds its legendary Cock-of-the-Harbour as part of the inaugural 2019 SailFest Newcastle Regatta.
Posted on 26 Mar
Am Cup: Video on first World Series event
Promotional video posted by America's Cup on Cagliari, Sardinia as the first venue the ACWS Promotional video posted by America's Cup on Cagliari, Sardinia as the first venue for the America's Cup World Series for 2020 - but no date on the event, which is tipped for April 2020
Posted on 25 Mar
Clipper Race renewes partnership with TIMEZERO
TIMEZERO by MaxSea announced as Official Navigation Software Supplier to the Clipper 2019-20 Race The eleven strong fleet of 70 ft ocean racing yachts will be equipped with TZ Professional for the 40,000 nm circumnavigation.
Posted on 25 Mar
RS Aero Victorian State Championships
Series attracts a total of twenty-five entries The fleet contained a broad range of age and experience with Tabitha Stevenson and Michelle de Blaquiere and Tim Bardon bringing their experience from other classes and jumping into the RS Aero for the first time.
Posted on 25 Mar