Autonomous Sail Boat Design for ENGS 147

In this post we introduce you to Peter Ankeny, a first year M.E.M student and an A.B, B.E ’12, who’s working on the design and fabrication of an autonomous sailing catamaran for his ENGS 147 or Mechatronics class.

What’s really cool and unique about this class is that it doesn’t have any formal class meetings and requires the completion of the project within the term. And designing an autonomous catamaran within a little over 2 months is no small feat.

Asked about how he’s going to test the boat,  Pete said “we intends to sail it in the Occom pond [here at Dartmouth], wherein the boat will have a GPS marker fed into it and would then have to autonomously adjust the sails to the winds to maintain the right direction and correct for deviations.” He also mentioned that the boat would be using software especially certain machine learning techniques to achieve autonomy.


Sam at the milling machine


Peter and Sam

Right now Peter is working on machining the hulls of the catamaran on the milling machine at the machine shop and to help in this Peter roped in Sam (Samuel Williams B.E ‘13) given Sam’s previous experience working on his ENGS 89/90- ‘Walvistaart’ project, which involved similar work. In the following paragraphs I’ll give a short description of how the hulls are going to be built, later the project would involve building of other components and the vital software. As he continues to work on this project we’ll cover the cool stuff Peter does at the machine shop and keep you informed of that.

Building the hulls first requires the machining of high density foam into the shape and dimensions desired. This is done on the milling machine; the design blueprint is created using an attachment of Solidworks called the Solid CAM. Solidworks is a CAD(Computer aided design) software and CAM stands for computer aided machining. The CAM software provides the blueprint in a format referred to as a g-file which is then input to the milling machine. Once this is done, the foam piece is fixed in place in the milling machine and from there the machine takes care of the milling.


The milling machine setup and the 3-D rendering


Making adjustments


Machine in action(it just revolves too fast to capture)

The next step involves encasing the machined foam in fiberglass to form a tough encasing around the foam thus resulting in the finished hulls. This is done by wrapping the foam hulls in fiberglass and then applying an epoxy coating. The resulting chemical reaction dissolves the fiber in the fiberglass and forms a tough, hard casing around the foam hulls, thus resulting in a solid base for the catamaran.




The almost finished hulls of the catamaran


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One comment on “Autonomous Sail Boat Design for ENGS 147
  1. Nonnie says:

    Fascinating project!! It will change the world of racing sailboats, or else they will be illegal!!

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