Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Improving Odds of Robot Crossing the Atlantic

After building and learning what we can from our 12 foot solar robot boat it really seems like it would be fund to send it across the Atlantic.  There have been a number of other attempts to send small home made robot boats across the Atlantic but it seems so far all have failed.  So maybe we could be the first!

Our boat is not self righting.  If it turns over that is probably the end of our attempt.  There is some chance that another big wave tips it back over.   With the daggerboard down in the water it is more stable in the upright position so it could end up that way even after tipping a few times.   I am sure many people reading this think we will never make it across the Atlantic without the ability to self right.    I think we still have a good chance.    Let me try to explain my thinking.

First it would really take a breaking wave to flip this boat.  This is something that comes from storms.   If we are going from around 18 degrees North in the non-hurricane season we can mostly avoid storms.   If we can send the robot new waypoints over a sat-link to avoid a storm it may never run into a storm.

The boat is 4+ feet wide and has enough stability for a sail.  Without a sail and the leverage that gives the wind, it would not tip over easily.  Also, the battery or batteries will be very low in the boat.

I think the main danger will be at the crest of a large wave.  The phone has motion sensing so we could write code so that it knows when it is coming to the crest of a wave.   It could then point the boat into the wave and slow down to minimize the risks.  We will generally be headed into the wind so most of the time we will be pointed into the waves.

If one motor breaks we can still use the forward/reverse capability of the other motor to control which way the boat is pointed.   With the wind mostly blowing the boat back toward Anguilla if the boat is pointed the right way the daggerboard should be enough to bring the boat home.  So even if a trolling motor fails we should get the boat back and be able to try again.

We have played with vision software on our phone enough to recognize a yellow tennis ball inside our house.   Recognizing a large patch of brown seaweed floating on a blue ocean is probably something we can do.  So we may be able to avoid large patches of seaweed.   A small clump on the surface probably does not stop us.  The propellers are down in the water a ways as is the daggerboard.

We could put in lots of batteries and try to run the motor all night or we could have the boat turn sideways in the night and just drift slowly.

Some of the things that could still go wrong:
   1) Phone or other critical electronics could die
   2) Both trolling motors could fail
   3) We could run into seaweed in the dark when our vision could not help us
   4)  Camera can get crusted over with salt and the robot go blind

There are websites that report seaweed locations.  We might be able to avoid the seaweed just by going when there is not much seaweed.   In the 20 years I have been in Anguilla most of the seaweed I have seen is in the last year.  I think in another few months we might be back to normal.

We can probably work out something to keep the camera from going blind.

There are still challenges to solve but it seems possible.

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