This project is in the very early stage of development. I've got a couple ideas that I want to explore and need a suitable platform to work with. The following are some of the components I hope to use to assemble this platform.

The objective of this project is to design a very small boat ( roughly 1 meter LOA ) that will be capable of autonomously traveling a preset survey grid to produce a sonar bottom scan. For this first iteration of the project I hope to use all off the shelf components, the only customization will be some custom code I will need to write.

HP Mini 311 - The brains of the boat. Probably over kill for the task, but I happen to have one.

Operating System
Windows XP - Mostly because of the wide range of free tools and info available for it.

Control Software
RoboRealm - This very cool software is really a key element to the whole system. It supports a wide variety of hardware (servo controllers, GPS sensors, serial interface, etc.) and provides a simple interface for making them work together.

Motor / Servo Control
Parallax USB Servo Controller - This will be used to control the boat's propulsion motor(s) and rudder(s).

GlobalSat BU-353 USB GPS - The GPS will be used primarily to provide position, course to steer and distance to waypoint. It will not be used for heading information as GPS heading is almost completely worthless at slow vessel speeds.

Silicon Labs USB tilt compensated compass - A very inexpensive, tilt compensated, USB interfaced compass that I just happen to have.

Route planning
Polar View - A free chart viewer, route planning application. A track can be marked on a chart and then saved as an ASCII CSV file, which will then be used by the autopilot software I hope to write.

Remote monitoring / Control
Wifi + VNC - My plan is to use a 1 watt router connected to my shore based computer, and then a 1 watt USB dongle network adapter on the afloat computer. The goal will be to be able to monitor the boat's position and sensor data as well as being able to update/change the autopilot's route. I have no idea what the potential range is for Wifi over water, but hopefully 1 watt will give me at least a couple hundred meters.

I'm still sorting this out. I'd prefer to use something off the shelf (ie. a large RC boat) but most don't have the weight carrying and stability capabilities I will need. The hull will likely be a catamaran or trimaran and propulsion will be by electric motor. The final system will need to be hand carried by one person, so the size will likely stay at roughly 1 meter LOA.

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Comment by lionel on July 7, 2010 at 6:11am
hey looks cool :)
Comment by Bob La Quey on July 7, 2010 at 7:09am
Have you run a budget yet. I am quite interested in similar functionality. Probably go the Linux route though.
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 7:38am
Thanks Lionel and Bob. I already had almost everything except for:

- the latest version of RoboRealm - costs $90, an older free version can be found but doesn't include the nice GPS support.

- the high power Wifi gear - should cost $80 - $100

- a suitable boat - I have no idea the costs yet, but hopefully is around $300 or less.

So if my math is right, total budget (including the cost of the bits I already have) is in the neighborhood of $1500USD.
Comment by Bob La Quey on July 7, 2010 at 7:38am
What are you planning to use for the sonar?
Comment by Niklas on July 7, 2010 at 7:40am
Your system sounds a bit overkill to me. Check out the posts on "Ardupilot goes into the water". That project is very interesting.
Comment by Darren on July 7, 2010 at 8:26am
They are making good almost unsinkable RC Boats with depth finders.... look for RC Boat Fish Feeders

Comment by Daniel Gru on July 7, 2010 at 8:33am
Ardupilot goes into the water was a greaaat blog! hope there will be more off it soon. every question will be answered there...

Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 8:36am
Agreed, "Ardupilot goes into the water" is a great project. I considered doing it that way but since I have all the components for a PC based system and have experience in that area that's the way I'm going. At least for this first iteration. And yes, using a netbook as the brains is way overkill.
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 8:39am
Thanks for the link Darren, those are the lowest priced fishing rc boats I've seen. Too small for this project, unfortunately, but worth considering in an ardupilot based project.
Comment by Darren on July 7, 2010 at 8:47am
I've seen others too, but I laughed when I read that one can even lower a hook :)
Can you imagine what the ardu code would look like for, detect fish and set hook.


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