Announcing my self-sailing boat project

A couple of months ago I quit my day job to begin my career in robotic sailboats. It's quite an undertaking to leave a comfortable corporate job while supporting a family as the sole bread winner to embark on journey with an unknown outcome. So far it has had it's ups and downs, with this blog I hope to share some of the progress made.

What is a robotic sailing boat? It's a sailboat that can sail itself. Like a drone, or UAV, but on water. The idea is that you will be able to give the boat a set of latitude and longitude points (way points) and it will sail between them, all on it's own. So for two full months now I have been working full time on a robotic sailboat prototype, see the photo below.

Wow, is this something totally new? No, the World Robotic Sailing Championships have been putting robotic sailing boats up against each other for at least 8 years now. So there has been some work in this area for some time, and there are some major contenders like the US Navy.

The progress so far: Late in 2015 I purchased two carbon fiber radio controlled (RC) sailboats with regular RC radio gear. I removed the RC gear and replaced it with a small computer, it's called a BeagleBone. The BeagleBone is able to receive commands through either Wifi or a cellular network and it is also able to control the servos (motors in the sailboat). The sailboat only needs to control the rudder for steering and tighten the sails for different wind directions. I also integrated GPS, an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass; these devices allow the sailboat to know it's own position, heading and orientation.

So currently I can remotely control the sailboat using my mobile phone, see my technical write-up of the project on Hackster.io, which shows an early stage prototype. This write-up won me a trip to Schenzhen Maker Faire, China, and some spending money at Seeed Studio.

Since that initial prototype I made a few iterations, due to issues and necessary features. The main issue has been with a poor cellular network signal.

Next Step: The next step is to get the boat to understand it's environment and how it behaves under different conditions.