AutoBoat, the Autonomously-Navigating Sailboat

Autoboat was inspired by me being disappointed in myself. A bit of an odd source of inspiration, but in a way that was a big motivational help.

Preliminary test of Autoboat

I entered summer break after my sophomore year at RIT feeling pretty discouraged after not having the determination to find a summer internship. I had always struggled at employing myself, but by this point I needed to get to work or risk falling behind in school. with less than stellar grades and no real work experience I felt doomed to fall into the endless loop of job application rejections. I realized that I needed a project that would stick out on my resume, and also teach me things about designing a robotic system that I felt my classes had not yet covered. With that plan in mind, I found an old model sailboat in my basement and decided to make it autonomous. I had no prior experience with creating autonomous robots, and even less experience with designing one from scratch. so I started by working on what I knew best: improving the mechanical components.

Used some Bondo and a lot of elbow grease to smooth out the contours of the hull.

Used some Bondo and a lot of elbow grease to smooth out the contours of the hull.

The chrome spraypaint didn't apply as well as I would've hoped but it passed muster.

The chrome spraypaint didn’t apply as well as I would’ve hoped but it passed muster.

I tried to match the Mahogany hull by “borrowing” some scraps from the old man’s workshop.

The original sailboat was designed to be raced and was not easy to cram full of sensors and servos, so I started by modifying the hull. Adding a larger hatch made the later modifications to Autoboat much simpler. I also replaced the beautifully dated blue and white paint job with something a little better.

AutoBoat 2 AutoBoat servo mount progress 2 spoiler 1

The next step was to plan out the internals of Autoboat. To do this, I reverse-engineered the hull components in Autodesk Inventor, and started designing the components that would allow the system to perform in a wide range of wind and wave conditions.  The design of this portion of boat has been the hardest part of the project so far, and has had 2 major revisions (the 3rd is still in the design phase). I called the main component the Sail Adjust Module or SAM, since 90% of it’s function was to ensure the lines that went out to the sails would operate  without tangling or unspooling. The small vertical servos were intended to be used for coiling and uncoiling the lines as they were adjusted. this worked to some degree but ultimately the design was flawed for several reasons. I go into more detail in the project report at the end of this page.

mounted anemometer and wind vane standPrinted on my personal 3d printer, this was a complex part to design and recreate out of plastic

My CAD model of the hull was a little shorter than the real thing, but the module still fit as planned.

My CAD model of the hull was a little shorter than the real thing, but the module still fit as planned.

The next step in the design process was to design a mechanical unit that could give me greater control over the two outputs of the system, mainly the sails and the rudder. This was Autoboat’s first 3d-printed part, and far from its last as I added more and more sensors.

I/O breakout board for Autoboat uC boardIMG_20150403_150730230

I decided to use a Hot wire Anemometer for this project, which works pretty well. It's hard to produce wind in a shop however, so I used what I had available.

I decided to use a Hot wire Anemometer for this project, which works pretty well. It’s hard to produce wind in a shop however, so I used what I had available.

testing out the IMUTest assembly of the different components

Autoboat introduced me to many more sensors and signal processing designs that I had not experienced before, including working with an IMU (innertial Measurement device) to find the boat’s position in 3D space. one of my favorite components, the magnetic encoder-based wind direction sensor, was also created at this time.

So, why isn’t Autoboat finished? there have been long periods where a variety of issues have kept me from being able to work on it. Between the start of the project and now, I’ve worked at 2 different engineering companies, joined several clubs at school, and started several other robotics projects. Someday I may return to the project, but I believe that I accomplished what I set out to achieve either way.

 

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