Just over 100 miles out from the coast of Rhode Island, an autonomous drone boat called Scout has already broken records for the farthest unmanned voyage, and its designers hope to set a much bigger one by using it to perform the first unmanned transatlantic crossing. The best part? You can follow the robo-boat on its voyage online via a handy Transatlantic Tracker.
The 12-foot craft is a mini-marvel of clever design combined with off-the-shelf components. One Mega Arduino microcontroller board handles navigation and another handles sensors and communications via an Iridium satellite transceiver, but the boat is entirely pre-programmed, relying on sensor data to adjust to environmental conditions. For power, the boat relies on solar panels, which can be heavy and make the boat less efficient. To compensate, the team removed the aluminum frames from the panels and laminated them straight onto the deck, allowing them to cram more solar arrays onto the top of the robot. The deck itself is tilted south, which is a better angle for collecting sunlight.
The boat is the brainchild of a collage of college students from Worcester Polytechnic, Notre Dame, Bucknell University, Endicott College, Northeastern, and the University of Rhode Island, but it isn’t aligned with or funded by any school. Instead, the project has enjoyed the sponsorship of Jamestown Distributors, a local family-owned marine and building supply company, along with individuals who have donated to the cause via the group’s Facebook page. Formed in 2010, the team started working on the final version of their unmanned craft in April 2012.
Though they initially wanted to take advantage of long days earlier in summer, after two false starts Scout finally launched on August 24. Within two days, the craft had beat the previous record for an unmanned naval voyage of 60 miles set by a team from Aberystwyth University in the 2010 Microtransat Challenge. The next hurdle is the transatlantic crossing, and judging by previous attempts, Team Scout is already leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.