We got second Place.

25/05/2008 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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We have come second place overall for the whole competition. We aren’t quite sure how, the Canadian team actually did better in the races but some of that was under remote control. It could have something to do with us deciding yesterday that we’d buy 20 bottles of beer and take them out to the judges boat! Or maybe the judges just valued our autonomy more than the Canadian’s completing races under remote control.

The Austrian’s came first, the Canadian’s third and the Portuguese (who only competed in one race) last.

Now we just need to get Pinta ready for the Microtransat in October!

No wind, a good race and a presidential visit.

24/05/2008 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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There was virtually no wind this morning but we finally managed to get a race with all four robots on water. Despite this Pinta sailed well and the ultrasonic wind sensor really shined in comparison to the rotary sensors some of the other teams were using. In such light winds the rotary sensors just didn’t give sensible readings while our ultrasonic sensor continued to do so.

This afternoon Heinz Fisher, president of Austria visited to witness the short “Man vs Machine” race in which a 15 year old sailor from the yacht club competed against all the robots. Despite sailing a boat shorter (and thus theoretically slower) than Pinta and ASV Roboboat (the Austrian boat) he still managed to beat them without even considering any handicapping of the boat. Something weird happened with Pinta’s rudder initialisation and the rudder only seemed to want to move halfway through its range, this meant we had no trouble reaching the first (and only) waypoint but failed to turn around afterwards.

We are now off for a post event meal onboard a boat that cruises round the lake. Then tomorrow we are showing off our robots in the town square before the 24 hour long journey back home. Its been a long week, we’ve blown up a lot of hardware, hacked a lot of things together but finally seem to have a boat that works.

The picture below shows President Heinz Fisher (the one in the grey suit facing the camera) looking at Pinta.

Time for (another) new GPS

23/05/2008 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So it seems we’ve destroyed another (and our last) GM862-GPS unit which provides our GPS and GSM communications. The only GPS unit we have left is my handheld Garmin eTrex which I brought with me to use in the chase boat to see how far we were from waypoints. Fortunately I also brought the data cable and the eTrex can use NMEA 0183 the standardised protocol used by most GPS units. The bad news is that the GM862 didn’t actually use NMEA so we’ve got to rewrite some code, but one of our other boats does have an NMEA GPS so its just a matter of copying that code. As for mounting it, in order to get a GPS signal we’ve got to mount the eTrex outside the electronics box as there’s no external antenna support like the GM862 had. So this means drilling another hole in the electronics box to get the data cable through. We also have to power the eTrex from its internal AA batteries so we’ll have to keep an eye on them. Luckily the eTrex itself is waterproof so we don’t have to worry about any waterproofing for it.

The picture below shows the mess that the electronics box is now in. The yellow thing at the bottom is the eTrex.

A nice test sail in the very gentle evening wind.

A really good race …… until the GPS got water in it.

23/05/2008 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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We had a really good race this morning. Three (out of 4) teams took part and we had some really good moments where two boats were sailing along next to each other with neither seeming able to get a lead on the other. It actually felt like a proper sailing race. Of course robotic sailing is never that easy! We crossed the start line well, passed the first waypoint without any problems. Then we had a little bit of problem with the second waypoint as we had to tack up to it and the boat overshot it. This was made worse because we’ve added an additional waypoint to help guide us to the right place but actually this created more problems than it solved and meant we basically ended up circling the waypoint about 4 times. After that Pinta headed out nicely towards the final waypoint but then started to go off course a bit. We suspected something was wrong and found no GPS data was being sent in our telemetry and were forced to abandon the race only a few hundred metres from the final waypoint. Upon getting her back to shore we found that water had entered the electronics box and destroyed the GPS.

Despite this we got some good video of Pinta sailing and I’d attached a timelapse camera so I have a timelapse of the whole trip. The video is shown below along with the GPS track and a photo of Pinta sailing midway through the race.

Everything seems to be working!

22/05/2008 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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After a day of heavy testing, debugging code and tweaking parameters we finally seem to have a reasonably working boat! We’ve done a total of 8 test runs today and everything looks good. Tomorrow is the first of the short races (about 3km) in a triangular course. It looks like us, the Austrian’s and the Canadian’s are ready to go so we might actually get a proper race. Below is a short video of Pinta finally sailing properly.

Sailing well, apart from a twisting wind sensor.

21/05/2008 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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After a small test sail this morning we set pinta off to do a full lap (about 13km) of the course which has been setup for the still ongoing 48 hour race (in which nobody has managed more than about 4 hours of sailing so far). We let it go once it was clearly on course for the first waypoint and came back to shore. We then went out again and found Pinta nearly at her first waypoint. Unfortunately as she reached the waypoint she seemed to struggle to get on course for the next one. We then observed that the mast (and therefore the wind sensor) were twisting around and this was messing up the wind readings. So we abandoned the run and towed Pinta back to shore.

Arrived in Austria killed a gumstix, gpio14, a GPS and possibly an Iridium modem

20/05/2008 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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We’ve arrived in Austria after a 24 hour drive from Aberystwyth! We hadn’t finished programming or making the hardware though. We still had to write a driver for the tiller pilot and sort out some electrical connections. But somehow in the process of doing this (which we still don’t totally understand) we’ve killed one of our Gumstix. We brought some spares but they aren’t quite the same, they are the newer Verdex model which don’t have a compact flash slot. Instead they have ethernet and built in Wifi. One of the things we really liked about using the compact flash model was that we could get the gumstix to act as an access point. This was far more reliable than trying to get the Gumstix to connect to an access point on the shore or use ad-hoc mode. The good news is that the Austrian’s have setup a super long range wifi access point which covers several km from the yacht club. The bad news is that we can’t get the Gumstix to work with the encryption on it and wifi here keeps dying because everyone is using 2.4ghz stuff and they are all just interfering. So we’ve gone out and bought a very nice Netgear access point and connected it over ethernet to our Gumstix. There’s not enough room in the electronics box for it so we’ve had to stick it in a plastic bag on the deck! Our boat has gained a lot of gaffa tape in the process. After we got the Gumstix up and running the tiller pilot started acting strange unless we turned the GPS off. Then we found the GPIO14 I/O extender which acts as an analogue to digital converter was getting really hot, so we replaced that too.

Unfortunately our GPS still continued to act strange. This may have been because we left the boat outside last night with the lid on the electronics box was slightly loose and it rained quite badly, so we came in to find water inside all of our electronics. The iridium modem has taken the worst of it and is being taken apart to dry ou. We used a hair dryer borrowed from one of the women who works at the club to dry things out. We thought the GPS was ok but after several hours of pulling our hair out over various electrical issues we decided to replace it too. Upon replacement it works fine but of course this GPS is slightly different to the other one and has its own onboard power regulator so it all behaves a little differently. Although now after a day of debugging electrical issues we now have what looks like a working control system, but will have to wait until tomorrow to test it now.

So much for us starting on time for the 48 hour race event that was supposed to begin at midday. But the Portuguese team are still writing code, the Canadians haven’t arrived yet and the Austrian’s briefly went out before coming back as they broke their rudder actuator.

Oh and we’ve cut our sail down so its now a bermudan rig instead of a sprit rig. We’ve now only got about 3 square metres of sail, but for a robot that should be plenty.

Off to Austria!

17/05/2008 at 6:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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We are off to Austria for the first World Robotic Sailing Championships, a week of racing (and probably breaking and repairing) sailing robots on Lake Neusiedl. There are teams from Austria, Canada and Portugal there all of which are hoping to be part of the Microtransat Challenge later this year.

Pinta featured in the Times!

10/05/2008 at 7:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pinta was today featured in the Times! Full article at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article3904557.ece. Unfortunately we still haven’t finished the control system or mounted the solar panels but everything else is pretty much ready. There was barely any wind so we just launched Pinta and floated her around the harbour (its also the first time she’s been on the water) while they took photos.

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