Autonomous boat to sail across the Atlantic – Proof of concept

One year has passed since I launched the autonomous boat OpenTransat that has attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean and I wrote an article about it. The boat is lost in the ocean after being hit by crazy storms, but I didn't give up. Currently, I am working on the next sailboat with improved hardware and software and a more robust construction. The above picture is the design which is not final yet – it will be further improved in several aspects.

You see, it's based on interesting concept – a rigid wingsail that's adjusted by a "flap". It works much like an airplane wing. It's not something new – it has been used even on manned yachts:

However, I had no experience with this thing and I wasn't confident enough to believe it can work. Before going to spend a lot of time building a new 2-meter boat that will be designed for extreme ocean conditions, I've decided to build a 65-cm model to test and tweak the concept. Along the path, I've learned skills necessary to build strong composite parts.

The carbon fiber/Kevlar hull is filled with a closed-cell polyurethane foam and painted with a special antifouling paint. This kind of paint doesn't give as smooth finish as a gelcoat or normal paint, but it prevents subaquatic organisms from attaching to the hull.

A waterproof servo is used for steering. As this is just a model for lake testing, the IP67 rating is acceptable here.

The boat uses the same custom hardware and navigation software as the final design. The hardware is optimized for low power consumption and it includes plenty of sensors to provide more insight of what's happening with the boat. The program can be uploaded over Wifi which makes life a lot easier – I can debug and overwrite the program from the shore or motorboat. The battery provides enough power for 8 hours of continuous operation.

The wingsail is made from a foam wrapped with carbon fiber.

And here's the finished boat:

Check out the video of the boat sailing on a lake:

I'm happy to see it works!

You can follow the progress on this facebook page where I share all the details, attempts, mistakes and solutions:

Views: 1688

Comment by Ed on November 6, 2017 at 5:13pm
I'm very happy to see you didn't give up. I wish all the success
Comment by Andy Osusky on November 7, 2017 at 1:35am

@Ed Thanks :)

Comment by Evgeni Trenev on November 7, 2017 at 5:55am


look at this construction . I think you need to reinforce the mast with steel ropes (forestay, backstay and shrouds) and also maybe the hull it's better to be more  wide. 

Do you have heel with weight ?

Comment by Andy Osusky on November 7, 2017 at 6:22am

@Evgeni Trenev The mast will be made from a thick carbon fiber tube. Both the mast and the keel will be connected to inner structure made from aluminum. I am not sure I can use ropes when the wing is free-rotating.

You can see the keel with weight in the last picture (just above the video).

Comment by Hein du Plessis on November 8, 2017 at 8:10am

I just want to say - this is SO COOL! Please keep at it and keep us posted!

Comment by Tobias on November 8, 2017 at 2:09pm
Congratulations, I have read a lot about your previous trial and I'm looking forward for this one.

Did you consider a Flettner rotor? Of course it need power but I would expect that it is far more resistent to damage by waves than the flat surface of a sail?!
Comment by Andy Osusky on November 8, 2017 at 11:27pm

@Tobias Power is the main concern. The wingsail "flap" will be adjusted once per hour and the rudder will correct the heading every 5-10 seconds and even this would drain the batteries in 4-5 cloudy days.

Comment by Antonie Kruger on November 9, 2017 at 7:05am

Hi Andy. I think this is great. Well done and thanks for sharing. Keep going - Im sure many will keep track of your progress. I know I will.

Comment by James Pike on November 9, 2017 at 8:17am

I love the project.  I would be inclined to change a few things just out of my own experience.  Put that steering servo in the hull.  1. IP67 might give you some confidence but with the different temperatures it will see and salt water I would protect that as the most critical component that it is.  2. Make the sail smaller.  You have a speed limit already by your short hull length.  Storms will make a mess of anything that looks like it could break.  3.  Put the gps in the hull and not in a mast.  Just isolate it from long wires and it will get great reception (test it in salt water though).  4. Make the hull and sail out of fibreglass so that it doesn't block the gps.  A boat that small should not need the strength of carbon fibre if it is built correctly.  Where abouts are you based?

Best of luck


Comment by Andy Osusky on November 9, 2017 at 9:47am

@James Pike It's a prototype just to test the concept. The ocean-going boat will look much like the CAD model you see in the first picture (or the picture below) with some improvements. It has all the properties you suggested.

The sail size will be determined by finding the angle of heel at the maximum expected wind speed. It will be done by simulation. Regarding the material, I have been doing a lot of experiments by combining layers of carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar and evaluating the properties of the result. I have found that the best composite is a combination of all three materials + a foam core. Carbon fiber provides rigidity while the outer layers of fiberglass and Kevlar will protect the hull from impacts and abrasion (shark teeth, collision with a vessel or icebergs).

The only concern are GPS and Iridium antennas which will be located above the carbon fiber surface and far from the wingsail, not inside the hull. The antennas will look like the small dome you see next to the hatch. I think they should work with a 50% view to the sky.

The boat has been tested on the Lake Neusiedl (Austria, Europe). I live in both Slovakia (Europe) and Canary Islands (Atlantic) depending on the season. :)


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