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The Solar Boat: Electronics preserving the environment, Part 1

A boat’s propulsion system is usually fuel-based, with emission of exhausted fuel into the sea which pollutes the sea water and damages the environment. The introduction of the solar boat is necessary to preserve our planet, which is mainly covered by water; the autonomous drive option is a pleasant alternative (see Figure 1):

“I struggle to descend the stairs leading to the sandy beach at Half Moon Bay, California, awkwardly hefting the 60-pound solar-powered SeaCharger atop my shoulder. Amid numerous “what-the-heck-is-that?!” stares, I perform some last-minute checks of the propeller and rudder, then wade out knee-deep and push SeaCharger as hard as I can toward the oncoming waves. Moving at walking speed, the boat makes it through the first several waves without flipping. Relieved, I make my way back onto the beach, then turn and watch my two-and-a-half-year project plodding westward, gradually disappearing in the whitecaps. A watchful bystander approaches me and says he’s sorry I lost control of my boat and that he’s sure it’ll wash up on the beach. I assure him that the boat is on autopilot, going exactly where it’s supposed to go. “And where is that?” “Hawaii.”… This time SeaCharger really is dead, but not before it traveled an impressive 6,480 nautical miles.” (Source: makezine.com)

Figure 1

The Autonomous boat solar powered (Source: makezine.com)

The Autonomous boat solar powered (Source: makezine.com)

There is a great contribution of electronics technology towards the realization of autonomous solar-powered boats by means of the addition of reliable electronic components inside such smart zero-impact boats (see Figure 2) that will enable autopilot driving and remote connectivity functionalities as well:

“Since the intended use of the ArduCopter board is as an autopilot for a limited-range autonomous vehicle, it comes with an (external) serial radio (using a 433MHz radio to transmit a full-duplex serial stream at 57,600 baud) to communicate with the ground controller. While this radio is perfectly useful for short range operation, to be able to be tracked and controlled no matter where it is the craft needs to be able to use a long-range radio of some form. The original plan was to use a satellite modem (using the Iridium network) to send infrequent (hourly) position reports, and check for mission updates. However, this idea was exchanged for a 3G modem designed for remote access to RS232-based equipment. This modem removed the need for writing and debugging both a communications protocol, and communicating with the satellite modem, and the cost of reducing craft's control range. With the new modem available, the existing telemetry code (which uses a protocol called “MAVLink”) could be leveraged, and combined with the modem's in-built TCP/IP stack sending the transmitted messages to a remote server, a basic tracking server can be written. The ArduPilot source however still needed to be modified, as the update message rate is only configurable in 1Hz increments (which leads to several hundred megabytes per month of data). To reduce this rate to something more reasonable (e.g. an update every 10s) some custom code was used that disabled the built-in periodic updates and replaced with a long-period burst of messages.” (Source: Project Report: Autonomous Solar Powered Boat by John Hodge)

Figure 2

The ArduCopter 2.8 board is a smart embedded electronic module that can be inserted in an autonomous boat to realize the autopilot driving functionality of a smart autonomous solar powered boat. 
(Source: Project Report: Autonomous Solar Powered Boat by John Hodge)

The ArduCopter 2.8 board is a smart embedded electronic module that can be inserted in an autonomous boat to realize the autopilot driving functionality of a smart autonomous solar powered boat. (Source: Project Report: Autonomous Solar Powered Boat by John Hodge)

What do you think of this smart boat with zero-impact on the marine environment? Do you think it will be utilized in the near future for water transportation in protected marine environments?

1 comment on “The Solar Boat: Electronics preserving the environment, Part 1

  1. RituGupta
    April 8, 2019

    We can do so much more with a similar setup of such a solar vehicle for land usage. Imagine all the energy that we get to harness and harvest while on the go to provide for various public components like lamp posts, traffic lights, and even transportation. This is definitely a sector worth drilling into to find a good source of alternative energy for long-term.

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