Maritime Robotics: UBC Sailbots
At UBC, the Pacific Ocean is an extension of its Vancouver campus and in some cases, its classrooms. Sailing has a long tradition of student participation and the UBC Sailing Club, more than 50 years old with a robust student membership, has close ties to the local sailing community at Jericho beach.
Over the last decade, however, a new kind of maritime activity has emerged in the local waters off the Vancouver campus and led by a unique watercraft — one that has no human at the helm.
Enter the UBC SailBot, a fully automated robotic sailboat designed by its creators, the UBC SailBot team, who together are making waves — and catching strong wins — wherever they set sail.
The UBC SailBot initiative, founded in 2002, is the Engineering student design team that boasts a crew of nearly 50 students. The team competes in the annual International Robotic Sailing Regatta (IRSR) and has, for the second year in a row, scored a perfect 50 out of 50 to win first place at the 2014 IRSR held in Vallejo, California. This victory makes the UBC team the most successful in the competition’s history, ahead of chagrined second-place winners, the US Naval Academy. "I believe the SailBots have been established as a respected student team," says Team Captain Kristoffer Vik Hansen. "We really believe that projects like this will be important for creating the next generation of maritime innovation at UBC."
I believe the Sailbots have been established as a respected student team. We really believe that projects like this will be important for creating the next generation of maritime innovation at UBC.”
— Team Captain Kristoffer Vik Hansen
For their next challenge, the UBC SailBots will take on the Atlantic Ocean. The Microtransat Challenge, a transatlantic race of autonomous sailboats, was created by Dr. Mark Neal of Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK and Dr. Yves Briere of the Institut Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Tolouse, France. Yet, since its conception in 2010, no one has completed the Challenge.
The UBC SailBot team plans to launch its contender from Newfoundland in summer 2015 and be the first team to complete the crossing. While the students consider the complex design challenges of keeping their boat lightweight and under the regulated hull length of four metres, their main concern is simple: Will it float? With dedicated teams handling mechanical, electronics, power, software and administration, students will spend up to 15 hours per week ensuring it will.
From the local shores of English Bay to the future coast of Ireland, these students are taking their experience in UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science and employing new thinking in the fields of maritime engineering and marine robotics. But they aren’t doing it alone. Faculty and mentors such as Don Martin, legendary yacht designer, 2000 Olympian and racing competitor, support the team in creating high-performance robotic sailboats.
If you wish to learn more about the team, the challenge, and how you can help, visit UBC Sailbot.