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 Harald Molle on July 7, 2010 at 10:34am
Good afternoon to everyone.
Nice to hear, that the robo-boat idea is reloaded.
There will be soon a new episode of the "ardupilot goes into the water story"
Comment by Patrick Mccabe on July 7, 2010 at 12:02pm
Here is another example of what you are trying to do by Geir Andersen http://letsmakerobots.com/node/21098
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 12:22pm
Thanks Patrick, I hadn't seen that before. Very nicely done. If I knew how to code in C++ I'd give the arduopilot a try, but for this first run I'm going to stick with VB.
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 12:44pm
Sorry Bob, I missed your question: "What are you planning to use for the sonar?"
My plan is to use one of the small Humminbird side scan sonars (like the 798ci si), and assuming that works well, feed the data directly into DrDepth.
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 12:45pm
Hi Harald, nice to see the "expert" on the subject here. ;)
Comment by Xander on July 7, 2010 at 1:07pm
While the PC route may seem cheaper right now (considering you already have many of the components), think about what will happen the first time that boat takes on water. Swapping out an arduino will cost a lot less than swapping out a mini pc. With UAVs its often best to keep as much of the expensive equipment on the ground as possible. Crashes suck, so I really make an effort to keep onboard components cheap. Same would probably apply to boats.
Comment by Mogly (Umesh Tharanath) on July 7, 2010 at 1:26pm
I would Suggest to use SSC-32 Servo Controller instead of Parallax USB Servo Controller...
Comment by Harald Molle on July 7, 2010 at 2:32pm
My advice:
skip the PC and use an Ardupilot instead!
1. Much cheaper
2. Much easier for the integration of RC equipment and GPS
3. Less weight
4. An Ardupilot may survive beeing submerged, a PC definitely not :-)
5. The Arduino environment is very very easy to start up.
6. don´t know...

Comment by Sgt Ric on July 7, 2010 at 3:13pm
As the guys are pointing out...just like most R/C planes WILL crash sooner or later, ...your boat WILL take on water sooner or later.
Comment by bigkahuna on July 7, 2010 at 3:52pm
@Harald - I'd agree with everything you've listed except #2. As I'm not a C++ programmer and I've used almost all these components before with RoboRealm, I'm certain this will be the easiest way to go... at least for this first generation test.

@Sgt Ric - This is just a test platform to experiment with. My last project was an underwater ROV that was rated to 250' depth, so I'm well aware of the affects of water on electronics. I may never put this first model in the water, but if I do it will go in a Pelican case or something equally water tight.

@Mogly - I've got the Parallax USB SSC and it's supported by RoboRealm so that's what I'll use. I also have a Pulolu Micro Serial Servo Controller which I might use later if I decide to go with RS232 instead of USB. I've used both in other projects and haven't had any issues with either one.


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