Only 4400 miles to go
August 22, 2016 5:52 AM   Subscribe

An older man who has been watching the entire time approaches me and tells me that he’s sorry that I lost control of my boat and that he’s sure it’ll wash up on the beach somewhere. I assure him that the boat is on autopilot, going exactly where it’s supposed to be going. “And where is that?” he asks. “Hawaii.”

Godspeed, SeaCharger!
posted by notyou (32 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
So a solar-powered boat did in 41 days what a human did in 63. Both impressive in their own way. An autonomous boat doesn't suffer from hunger or stress, but it also has no survival motivation.

I'm optimistic that it can make the 4,400 miles to New Zealand, given that another man survived for 438 days traveling 6,700 miles (plus backtracking).
posted by Rangi at 6:12 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


man, living in some isolated spot in coastal Japan and having a sizable (and weighty) care package arrive each month* from the USA would be awesome.

This would work even better out on the San Juan Islands I guess.

* at ~4kts would need a fleet for this level of service
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:12 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Shoot, I meant to include a link to SeaCharger's website, specifically the tracking page, so you can follow along.
posted by notyou at 6:12 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not only did SeaCharger do something incredible, it also broke Betteridge's Law.
posted by chavenet at 6:14 AM on August 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Awesome. I love when someone gets an idea for something, builds it, and then sees that thing do what it was supposed to do.

I wonder if there are any regulations for such a thing? Most of the time it's in international waters but what about when it's near land? Since it's an unmanned boat, is it subject to salvage laws? I don't really know much about maritime law (yooooou're a crook Captain Hook...) but I'm curious what sort of laws apply in this case. Obviously this guy didn't worry about such things.

It feels like this is something that would have real-world applications. Autonomous shipping? Lifeboats?
posted by bondcliff at 6:21 AM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I love how on the tracking page you can see how SeaCharger arrived at the north end of the island and started doing circles or something, got picked up and turned off while it was driven to a house, where it sent off a few distress pings before getting thrown into the ocean again on the beach some way's away.

Are those apartments, or mansions?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:34 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


bondcliff: "It feels like this is something that would have real-world applications. Autonomous shipping? Lifeboats?"

Drug smuggling
posted by exogenous at 6:35 AM on August 22, 2016 [31 favorites]


Rolls Royce recently shared a fanciful video of its vision of autonomous shipping, arriving sometime in the next 10 years.

That barge Elon Musk lands his rocketships on is a drone -- it's towed most of the way to the target landing zone, and then positions itself on its own.

So, robot boats are the next wave, yeah.
posted by notyou at 6:37 AM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's well on the way to New Zealand, his kids are going to get a bunch of awesome vacations out of this if they go to pick it up again. Next can be Madagascar maybe.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2016


This is so great. I LOVE stuff like this.
posted by Thistledown at 6:56 AM on August 22, 2016


The sea monkeys are going to go crazy when they encounter this floating black monolith.
posted by Kabanos at 7:12 AM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


What a cool project!

One issue with automated shipping is that the boats are immense, powerful and the marginal cost of a crew is probably not that much. On the plus, a requirement for added sensors could make the seas somewhat safer. I've read accounts of sailboats trying to hail a passing ship and getting no response, was the watch in the head?
posted by sammyo at 7:23 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is incredibly cool, thanks for sharing!

The bottom of the tracking page has a link to another solar-powered autonomous boat project: Solar Voyager, an autonomous sea kayak that had been set out to cross the Atlantic. Sadly, in late June a prop got fouled and Solar Voyager veered off-course. (Here's a map; the tiles are borked, but if you zoom waaay out you can see the planned & executed courses.) But the vessel was not lost -- Solar Voyager was rescued by the Royal Canadian Navy! :D
posted by Westringia F. at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2016


notyou: So, robot boats are the next wave, yeah.

I sea what you did there.
posted by hanov3r at 8:18 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. Thanks for posting this.

I wonder if there is a betting line somewhere if it is going to make it to the next stop. I would bet on it.
posted by AugustWest at 8:42 AM on August 22, 2016


Very cool! Thanks for this.
posted by freakazoid at 8:48 AM on August 22, 2016


Smuggling may be harder than you think, as I'm sure those things make splendid reflectors for airborne radar. Piracy will be more of a problem - a net and a couple of muscly matelots could haul those things out of the briny faster than a crabber snags a pot.

But I find this a lot more cheering than the dog-and-pony solar airplane stuff, because it's the sort of thing one person can do
posted by Devonian at 9:21 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Smuggling may be harder than you think, as I'm sure those things make splendid reflectors for airborne radar.

Well, then, they need to make it so the solar panels are only out at nighttime.
posted by bondcliff at 9:34 AM on August 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is very cool. And it bothers me that it makes me feel I must post this Roomba-poop story as a semi-autonomous counterpoint. But I must.
posted by Mchelly at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love when someone gets an idea for something, builds it, and then sees that thing do what it was supposed to do.

Hmm. I suppose. Nevertheless:
. . . I assure him that the boat is on autopilot, going exactly where it’s supposed to be going. “And where is that?” he asks. “Hawaii.” The look on his face is priceless.
. . . there are few things more tedious than first-person accounts of 'putting one over' on some otherwise innocent, uninterested third person.*

--------------------------------
* See also "Harlan Ellison".
posted by Herodios at 10:39 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can think of something else more tedious.
posted by bondcliff at 10:50 AM on August 22, 2016 [23 favorites]


Using purely hobby-grade components might jeopardize the boat’s reliability, but paying for purely professional-grade components might jeopardize my marriage.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:44 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Extra sensors would not only be expensive, but also risky: increased complexity means that there are more things to break."

Pretty cool project. Wish there were photos of it coming to land in Hawaii
posted by rebent at 12:04 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love this. Especially given the amateur nature of the project. I'm surprised he went with a single motor and rudder servo - I would guess that duplicating the parts and control systems would be a tiny cost compared to say, flying the whole family to Hawaii. And weight isn't a concern at the same level that it would be in an aircraft. Very cool!
posted by ChrisHartley at 12:17 PM on August 22, 2016


I've always wanted to design an autonomous airship that could cross the ocean, as soon as I figure out how to mine water vapor to perform electrolysis to replenish the hydrogen gas.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:07 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


If I had an autonomous boat, I'd go out on the ocean. And if I had an autonomous pony, I'd ride it on that boat.
posted by fredericsunday at 1:20 PM on August 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Extra sensors would not only be expensive, but also risky: increased complexity means that there are more things to break.
Hmmm. If there's no feedback and your diagnostic sensors fail, then you're left with a boat that has no diagnostic sensors. . . which is what you've got now. It seems kind of weird to go to all this effort and not add a bunch of cheap sensors: light levels, temperature, compass and accelerometers, motor current, etc. Seems like a solid weekend and $200 to turn an uninstrumented boat into a maximally-instrumented boat, which would be both fun and useful for troubleshooting.

But, that doesn't take away from the fact that this is very cool and I'm delighted to read it. (I just wish there were photos of the home brew magnetic drive coupling.)
posted by eotvos at 2:16 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


An older man who has been watching the entire time approaches me and tells me that he’s sorry that I lost control of my boat and that he’s sure it’ll wash up on the beach somewhere. I assure him that the boat is on autopilot, going exactly where it’s supposed to be going. “And where is that?” he asks. “Hawaii.” The look on his face is priceless.

Yeah, that showed that asshole for taking an interest and being sympathetic. He should bugger off back to old person town where people do stupid old codger stuff like building actual boats so they can sail to Hawaii themselves. Obviously any sensible person would rather staple a bunch of extra hardware to the Roomba and send that instead.

(Just kidding, I'm actually quite into robots and enjoyed the article apart from that bit.)
posted by w0mbat at 4:57 PM on August 22, 2016


I'm just sort of curious after seeing how insubstantial the propeller was: certainly it has the capability of steering itself to some degree but in the end, isn't overall direction and speed more a function of ocean currents in which it's traveling than anything else?
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 6:15 PM on August 22, 2016


Interesting question. Going here and looking at the chart for the NE Pacific in July of various years, the currents seem small compared to the speed of the boat: less than about 0.5 meters/second vs. the boat's cruising speed of 3 knots, or about 1.5 meters/second.
posted by exogenous at 8:07 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's hardly "putting one over" on some rube...it's just...answering the question that the older man asked.

Did the guy just say "Hawaii", put on his aviators, and walk away? How absurdly uncharitable to think he left it at that.

This is awesome--I can't wait for an update.
posted by hototogisu at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


the currents seem small compared to the speed of the boat: less than about 0.5 meters/second vs. the boat's cruising speed of 3 knots, or about 1.5 meters/second.

So that means if he'd minimized steering against the current (which should be doable, since the major currents will float a rubber ducky from California to pretty close to Hawaii) he would be able to do most of this without cycling on the propulsion at all, but at 1/3 the rate (adjusted for his route, which I know nothing about.)

But also it means the PID control on the steering of this boat seems waaaaaaay too aggressive. If the rudder went through 2.5M cycles (he says 2 to 3 million), that's something like 7 steering events per 10 seconds for all 41 days. That's a lot. So either it's just doing too much work, or he's not taking the current into account at all when planning the route, and then he's trying to stay very close to a narrowly defined route that's fairly inefficient.

Still very cool!
posted by atbash at 12:10 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


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