Aberystwyth Sailbot

SailBot 2013 International Robotic Sailing Regatta is a robotic sailing competition in which the goal is to create an unmanned sailboat that navigates through a variety of challenges with limited, if any, human control.

We met the Aberystwyth Sailbot team at the recent Cambridge Raspberry Jam. Their Sailbot uses a Raspberry Pi to make sure its tiny little crew make their way safely back home and we liked it so much that we are proud to be sponsoring them. Daniel Clark from the team tells us more:

We’re a team of students from Aberystwyth University. In October last  year, we all knew we had an interest in robotics, and we were given the  opportunity to build and program an autonomous boat, so we decided to  start work and later enter it as a team in the Sailbot competition,  this year held near Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in June 2013.

The Aber Sailbot underway

Our entry’s control system is based off of a Raspberry Pi for all the major logic (written in Python and Java) and an Arduino Uno for interfacing with most of our sensors. We chose the Raspberry Pi to put at the heart of our control system because we knew it was small, robust and it would run code written in any language we wanted. Another key thing it had was networking so we could use Git as our version control system, as well as being able to SSH into the Pi remotely and make any last-minute adjustments. Also it had USB, which was needed for us to connect to the Arduino.

One last time: these are *small*, but the ones out there are *far away*

Our 1.2m long boat has two servos (one for the rudder and one for the sail), a GPS, a wind direction sensor and a compass. We also have a backup RC remote which, when turned on, automatically takes priority over the on-board control system, so that we can manually avoid collisions during the fleet races. If Sailbot2013 goes well we also plan to enter it into this year’s World Robotic Sailing Championships held in Brest, France, this September, and will continue to perfect it and hopefully enter it into next year’s  Sailbot as well.

The Aber Sailbot Team

Preliminary tests using RC can be seen here:


Take a look our website for more information follow us on Twitter @AberSailbot and like us on Facebook  www.facebook.com/Abersailbot



Jim Manley avatar

OK, you had me at sailboat, then robotic sailboat, but Sailbot … Ohhh boyyyy! It looks like too much fun to be legal! I do have a microcontroller-based helm, but it’s pretty simplistic, only able to hold a heading by adjusting the tiller, not even aware of its location or actual track. Good luck out on the “high seas”, me hardies! :D

tai viinikka avatar

That is so cool! It’s almost certain that Aberystwyth won’t be the only team at Boston with a Pi — google up the University of British Columbia’s team and you’ll see!

Ashley Basil avatar
Ashley Basil avatar

This might be useful for them, soiled state. Might be worth trying for sponsors.

Tom avatar

Excellent project! Good luck in Gloucester. I want to see some code!

kragniz avatar

All our code is free software, you can have a look at it over here: https://github.com/AberSailbot

mrpi64 avatar

That’s so cool! I have thought about a UAV… Anyone want to take on the idea?

Zak Zebrowski avatar

Have fun! Awesome project!

Tom avatar

A robot sailboat is a nontrivial problem, from the control system perspective. I tip my hat to these young people – and their mentors. I wonder if a couple of shore-based beacons would help with the navigation. Alternatively, differential GPS would be an interesting technology to apply, though a bit expensive.

Colin avatar

Normal GPS gets you an accuracy of between about 5 and 15 metres. For most of the sailbot events that is good enough, but the navigation challenge requires sailing between some buoys that are just 3 metres apart. So far most teams have just used a regular GPS and hoped for the best (and it works reasonably well most of the time), but DGPS might really help here. The alternative is to try and use a camera to pickup the buoy locations once you’re within a few metres. Maybe a Pi and a camera module would be good for this.

Oli avatar

Don’t use USB serial!!! – I found it too unreliable on an RC project that I did a few months back. I found the GPIO pins a much better way to communicate with arduinos through serial as they don’t stop responding if they loose contact as they occasionally did when using the USB. Anyway good luck!!

Ollie Clark avatar

Or just solder the USB cable directly instead of using a plug.

John Jacoobi avatar

Congratz on writing code to make a boat do boat stuff. Now teach me how to wield a hat like that guy on the bottom left, you guys are super fly.
//lol i know stuff about computer hacking too.

Tom avatar

The results are in, at http://www.sailbot.org.
The Abersailbot team did quite well for a first-time competitor. I think they finished 3rd overall, and the UBC team finished first! Great job by both teams, and their Raspberry Pi(lots)!

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