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Seacharger: fully autonomous, solar-powered boat journeys across the Pacific

autonomous solar boat

This month we reported on an EV enthusiast who transformed their Bayliner into an all-electric boat using Tesla battery modules. Now we take a look at a team of individuals who have their autonomous, solar-powered boat, dubbed the Seacharger, traversing the Pacific ocean towards New Zealand.

The Seacharger project is lead by Damon McMillan and JT Zemp, along with the support of Troy Arbuckle and Matt Stowell. With their diverse experience ranging from aeronautics to software engineering, they constructed an incredible, compact, 91 inch boat that is both fully autonomous, using GPS and satellites, and powered only by solar energy.

While relatively small, building this was no easy feat; according to a post by Damon, what started out as a year-long project turned into “30 months of mistakes, compromises, and start-overs.” Sure enough, once finally completed, the team, from Half Moon Bay, California, launched their unmanned watercraft towards Hawaii.

For its version of ‘Autopilot’ the vessel utilizes an Arduino Mega CPU as the brains, an Adafruit GPS, a Rock7 satellite modem and Devantech compass. Using these various instruments, the EV pings its location every two hours to the team and also keeps it on its pre-programmed course.

Forty-one days,  over 2,400 miles, and encounters with various hiccups, the Seacharger finally landed on July 22, 2016 concluding the monumental trip. But despite just finishing a massive achievement, the team wasn’t done yet.

“After a dew dabs of touch-up paint and some reprogramming,” on July 27th, the group of friends and colleagues re-launched the Seacharger towards New Zealand. This time, almost twice the distance coming in around 4,400 miles away. And at this point in time, via the tracker they have provided, it is around the halfway mark towards completing its second tour in the Pacific.

A snapshot of the Seacharger’s general specifications are below:

  • Length: 91 inches
  • Width: 22 inches
  • Displacement: 50 lbs
  • Cruising speed: 3 kts.
  • Endurance: three days in the dark (motor off), unlimited in the sun
  • Propulsion: brush-less motor with belt drive reduction driving propeller through magnetic coupling
  • Solar panels: 2x 100 w Renogy Bendable (sponsors for the project)
    • Panels are laminated layers of plastic rather than aluminum to avoid corrosion from the seawater
  • Batteries: 16 V LiFePo4, qty 50 26650 cells, total 500 Wh
  • Communication: RockBLOCK Iridium satellite modem
  • Autopilot: Arduino-based

Checkout the small photo slideshow of Damon and JT, along with the boat!

Stay up to date with the Seachargers journey with the tracker, and let us know your thoughts and comments down below!

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