While sailing can be an activity that is easy to learn, it is difficult to master. Sailing boats need to be constantly tended to quickly respond to changing conditions and for both the novice and the expert, this continual need for adjustments makes sailing a demanding task. That's why the ASV Roboat is an impressive piece of engineering. Packing an array of sensors, communications hardware and solar panels, the ASV Roboat is a fully autonomous, unmanned sailing boat that has its sights set on the current robotic world sailing record.
The ASV Roboat was adapted from a 3.75 m (12 ft) Laerling keelboat, which was originally designed as a learner boat for children. For this reason, it was built for safety and stability, with a 60 kg (132 lb) keel-ballast that helps make the boat virtually unsinkable.
From this base, a team from the Austrian Society for Innovative Computer Sciences (INNOC) added a battery bank, solar panels providing up to 285 W of power, a direct methanol fuel cell delivering 65 W for backup power, and a three-stage communication system combining WLAN, UMTS/GPRS and an IRIDIUM satellite communication system for navigation and tracking.
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After the target coordinates are entered, the boat’s onboard data from the various sensors, including GPS, compass and anemometer, on an NMEA200-bus are analyzed by the onboard Linux PC and instructions sent to the rudder, sails, tacks and jibes to get it to its destination.
In development since 2006, the ASV Roboat has claimed the World Robotic Sailing Championship (WRSC) title every year since 2008. Now the INNOC team is setting its sights on a lengthier challenge – the current robotic sailing world record of 78.9 nautical miles that was set by a research group from ENSTA Brest, France, in March of this year.
As part of a research project studying the endangered harbor porpoise in the Baltic Sea, the ASV Roboat is set to cover 150 nautical miles and remain at sea continuously for up to 100 hours. Everything, from route planning to maneuvering will be handled by the boat without human input.
On its first long-term mission the ASV Roboat will have an underwater microphone attached to record the sounds of the porpoises to provide information about migration routes, pairing sites and the animal’s communication behavior. Because the boat moves silently, it is hoped the marine mammals won’t be scared off and they can be observed undisturbed for long periods.
“Because they are energy self-sufficient, in addition to marine biology, these solar energy powered robotic sailing boats can also be used for tsunami early warning systems, search operations, meteorological measurements and the recovery of oil spills,” says Roland Stelzer, the manager of the ASV Roboat project.
The research mission will run from July 9th to 17th and will also see the ASV Roboat’s onboard computer storing more than 100 measured values per second for subsequent analysis to improve the boat’s sailing algorithms.