The first unmanned and autonomous sailboat has successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, completing the journey between Newfoundland, Canada, and Ireland. The 1,800 mile journey took two and a half months. It was part of the Microtransat Challenge for robotic boats, and bolsters the possibility of unmanned boats being used for long-haul missions. This could include everything from ocean research to surveillance.
“This has never been done before,” David Peddie, CEO of Norwegian-based Offshore Sensing AS, which built the vessel, told Digital Trends. “The Sailbuoy [robotic boat] crossed this distance all by itself without incident. The significance of this is that it proves that one can use unmanned surface vehicles to explore the oceans for extended periods and distance. This greatly reduces the cost of exploring the oceans, and therefore enables a much more detailed knowledge of the oceans than is possible using conventional manned technology.”
According to Peddie, the journey was surprisingly uneventful when it came to dealing with major challenges. That’s a significant departure from the 20 previous unsuccessful efforts made by teams trying to complete the challenge since it started in 2010.
“We had to wait a while for the right wind conditions to deploy safely; otherwise, the crossing has been normal with not too much wind and waves,” he said. “We had to avoid some oil platforms, but this is not unusual since we test in the North Sea.” He also noted that an effort was made to stay away from other ships, since there was a risk that the boat may have been picked up by passing traffic.
Sailbuoy ships cost $175,000 each and are powered by on-board solar panels. They send constant GPS data to reveal exactly where they are located.
Peddie told us that he has no immediate goals to follow this feat, although he is interested in doing more testing to see how much wind the boat can stand. “We would like to try and see how it behaves in hurricane conditions,” he said. “But most of our efforts these days is [focused on testing] the performance of sensors mounted on it and how well it functions as an sensor platform.”