PCB Building timelapse

The PCB’s are now built and are just going through the first stages of testing. They are integrated into the boat and will be powered on shortly.

In the meantime, here is a video time-lapse of the build process.

New electronics PCBs

The second iteration of our electronics PCBs have come back from the manufacturer. We have made many revisions from the original design, and the complexity of the wiring in the computing box should be halved. Making the wiring less complex is essential in being able to diagnose when things go wrong.

Barnacle board v1.0
Barnacle board, secondary Arduino
Ahab v1.1, latest and greatest Arduino Mega shield
Ahab v1.1, latest and greatest Arduino Mega shield

We will be taking a time lapse of the construction process (soldering on all the components). Expect updates soon. Furthermore, we expect to have the boat on the water for its first test soon.

Progress update – Fully functional electronics

I’ve allowed too much time to pass since the last post, a lot of progress has been made since the last one.

Cleaner electronics layout
Cleaner electronics layout

The box with all the computing components has been cleaned up. We tested the current setup thoroughly and discovered some changes that need to be made to the custom circuit boards we use. More on that further down.

Better handling of power connections
Better handling of power connections

Part of the key was looking at how we managed power connections to all the components. We added boards with lots of connectors on them for powering components. Before that everything had to be screwed into the posts in the middle, which turned out to be really difficult to manage.

Support unit
Secondary Arduino support unit

We added a second Arduino (computer) to the electronics to handle some time-critical events that would have made programming difficult on the main Arduino. But the one pictured above is just for getting the prototype figured out, we have sent a new circuit board for manufacturing that will integrate the chip below.

A much smaller version of the secondary arduino
A much smaller version of the secondary arduino

We’re really looking forward to getting the circuit board that this smaller Arduino will fit into. It will clean up the electronics even further and allow more room for a couple other components we want to add.

One of the challenges, is knowing the position of the motors that control the sails, and exactly how much they are turning at any given time. We added a very accurate optical encoder unit to the bottoms of our motors. This way any movement will show up in the software that runs the boat.

Motor with encoder assembly attached
Motor with encoder assembly attached

Finally, here is the latest picture of the boat all set up. We performed a quick check on all the systems, and everything is turning out better than expected. All sensors and motors respond as expected, and software has been written to diagnose the state of everything so that we can be sure the boat is working when we test.

Boat in the bay for testing
Boat in the bay for testing

We plan to put the boat in the water soon. We had hoped to have the boat on the water already but have experienced some unfortunate mechanical issues. More on that in a later post.

New power management PCBs

Just received the first of several PCB designs from the manufacturer. This board takes the raw connections from the on-board batteries and provides several stable voltage lines that get fed to all the other compartments in the boat.

The power board with all components soldered on


This isn’t the final version for one crucial reason. If one of the fuses blow, that’s the end of the boat’s journey. Our team is currently looking at different solutions to this problem, but until then, we can move the rest of the boats development forward without worrying about shorting our batteries.

The clean board fresh from the manufacturer, shiny laminated glory
The clean board fresh from the manufacturer, shiny laminated glory

Starting summer 2014!

We’re in the process of updating the site for the summer of 2014, expect more updates soon!

The summer of 2014 has begun, and we have a new plan and some progress updates from the school year to cover. We will continue to work towards completing the Microtransat challenge, and hope to eventually be the first University to put a boat this size across the Atlantic Ocean fully autonomously.

Currently we are working on improved electronic modules and wiring within the boat. We have designed one of three custom printed circuit boards which will be housed in three modules throughout the boat. The overall integration between the physical boat and its electronics has been refined significantly. Should one of the boat’s bulkheads flood for whatever reason, our electronics will remain operational. You can see the development of the project by going to our development page.

As we reach small milestones, such as the installation of new components, the results of component testing, expect new posts on this page.

Earlier this week, we took out the wind turbine that we’ll be using for power generation on board the boat, just to get a feel of how much wind was needed to get it spinning. We needed to pull it out of the cover of the surrounding buildings in order to get some consistent wind, but were pleased with the results overall.

Despite the majority of the work being done by the wind against the sail, we still need a way to generate power so that we can operate the drum winches and computer components. Given a large component like this, lots of testing and calculations need to be done to ensure the forces of the wind and water (in heavy waves) does not compromise the ships hull, in addition to testing how it will integrate with the ships electronics.


Due to mechanical setbacks, the team has decided that GaelForce XL will not be launching for MicroTransat 2013. As a team, we believe this is the best decision so we can create the strongest boat possible. We would have loved to set sail in August, but we are entering a season that will have very volatile weather and high seas, thus we will have a more treacherous trip. And sincerely, we just need more time. We were not able to test as much we wanted and this is a very big project for such a small team. However, we fully intend to compete in the MicroTransat 2014! We will be sure to keep everyone apprised of what is going on with our sailing beauty.

With a new motor coming in soon for our chase boat, we plan on doing more autonomous tests around local Kingston Islands, culminating in a round-trip test to Hamilton in September. With our additional testing time, we believe that we will have a real shot at winning the competition.

Thank you to all our sponsors who have helped us this far!

MicroTransat 2014, here we come!

Current Projects

We hope everyone’s summer is going well. We are all still busy,each working on various aspects of the boat. Kevin has been setting up the back end of satellite transmission software. This is the computer code that takes in the frequent updates from the sailboat, and unscrambles the information and then organizes it so that we know where the sailboat is and what it’s doing. Michelle is in the process of creating the sailboat’s basic artificial intelligence. This involves the sailboat identifying where the next way-point is relative to its current location, and sailing towards it if possible. The boat will change its course if the wind is coming from that direction, or if another boat is detected in the vicinity. Josh has been, as usual, working on the electronics box. This involves replacing a lot of that fragile wiring from before with fewer wires that are soldered to the new printed circuit board. Evan has been sourcing parts for installing the wind turbine, which has taken longer than expected due to stores being out of stock. Another concern of his has been the venting of the battery compartments; recharging lead-acid batteries causes them to off gas hydrogen which must be removed, or else risk exploding. We haven’t been able to test in a while because the motor of our zodiac chase boat is broken. We tried to fix it our selves, but it was beyond our abilities. We hope to buy a new one soon and get testing again!

Our broken motor 🙁
The tidier electronics box with the PCB in the bottom left corner
The hydrogen vent where it will be installed. It features a mechanism inside that prevents any water from entering the boat.

Test Results and Setbacks

Sorry for not updating in a while, our server was down for a few days. Our test last week was informative, if not as successful as we might have hoped. We learned that our software was not properly taking in the wind sensor’s data, and so the basic autonomous program running GaelForce XL was not running properly.  The general sailing went well, we found that the boat handled nicely, and was more responsive than previously thought. More recently, we have realized the sensors used to determine how far out the main sheet is, have been fried. We wanted to order replacements, but they only ship their sensors from California and Sweden, and given our tight schedule, we will try installing different sensors, specifically potentiometers.  Below are some photos of our last test.DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

Status update

After getting the boat out to the Kingston Marina on Friday we suffered a setback in the robot’s program. On review, a few mistakes in the code were found and corrected, and since then we have been working on the initial autonomous code. One of the difficulties that we have faced on testing days is that the wires in our electronics box keep falling out. To solve this we are designing a printed circuit board which will eliminate many of the wires that fall out and slow down our testing progress. A final note is that wind turbine hardware is being installed and the turbine should be up by Friday. Below is the current electronics box which gets stuffed into the inspection port each time:elecbox