A.N.T.O.N.Y. Autonomous Boat
A.N.T.O.N.Y. stands for "Autonomous Nautical Trackable Ocean-Navigating Yacht", and is a small fully-autonomous solar-powered boat designed to explore the high seas, while reporting information back to a remote-tracking station. There will be no remote operation of the vessel, so it must be able to navigate the waters on its own, with possible object detection and avoidance. Some proposed requirements/features:
- The vessel will be able to report its location, and possibly some other data such as temperature, battery levels, hull moisture levels.
- Since a journey may last many months, it will be powered by solar panels and rechargeable battery.
- Self-uprighting design to avoid capsizing.
- Sturdy, durable design that can withstand storms.
- Information on or in the boat with retrieval instructions and project description.
- A flag!
There are five main components of ANTONY's design: the physical ship body construction and testing, autonomous navigation and object detection, solar power system, remote-tracking system, and locomotion/propulsion.
The body will need to be watertight and able to withstand being thrown around in a storm. I've never messed with fiberglass before, but it seems like the best choice for the majority of the body. Currently, the ship's design will consist of a single hull and a flat top, with the electronics and some weights as low in the hull as possible. The top will house the solar panel and should retain some degree of detachability to allow access to the electronics.
Navigation will be very simplistic in design, using just a microcontroller, compass, GPS, and accelerometer. The vessel will have a pre-programmed set of way-points to visit, and the ship will simply set its heading to the next way-point and attempt to move in that direction. The accelerometer will be used to detect up/down orientation and possibly to log bumps and other physical abuse of the ship.
The way-points will be determined in such a way as to maximize the amount of time moving along ocean currents and minimize the amount of time moving against currents.
The power system will consist of a rechargeable battery and solar panels. Special care will be taken to reduce the power consumption of the navigation and tracking electronics.
The tracking is likely to be the trickiest part of the design. Out in the middle of the ocean, the boat will not be in range of cell towers or many other radio sources. One proposed solution is to use a SPOT Personal GPS Tracker, which can announce its location to the SPOT servers at the push of a button on the device. We may also be able to access the GPS information on the boat itself, removing the need of a separate GPS for navigation.