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Roboboat: Autonomous Yacht Control

Roboboat: Autonomous Yacht Control

Project ID: 
Lorcan Coyle
Simon Dobson
Fred Cummins
Donal Troddyn
Project Specification
Sensor and Control Systems
Strong Programming Background, Familiarity with Hardware interfacing, Linux
Project Type: 
Applied Research
Software Requirements: 
Java/C, Matlab
Hardware Requirements: 
Radio-controlled Yacht, control and sensor systems.
General Information: 

Self-powered and self-controlled vehicles have many advantages over human-controlled vehicles. They can be sent into areas that are too dangerous or expensive for humans to venture, also because there is no need to carry a human controller the vehicle can be miniaturised. Developing control systems for such vehicles is a hard problem, failure can lead to loss of the vehicle and the problem of powering autonomous vehicles for long periods of time is not trivial. Yachts offer some strong advantages over other vehicles such as arial vehicles as they are in a naturally stable state. In case of failure they remain in place. Furthermore their control systems are straight-forward - there are only three controls - the rudder, the jib and the main sail. Their motion is  powered solely by the wind and do not have heavy power requirements.

Plotting a course autonomously is an interesting research problem - given constant wind speed the calculation of course is a matter of solving vector mathematical equations. In operation on the water weather conditions make for a more difficult proposition. Constantly changing wind speed and direction, water currents, and wave motions combine to perturb the equation formulae. Advanced artificial intelligence algorithms need to be applied to the problem to correct the sail and rudder positions to take into account of these perturbations. In addition, substantial work will be required to build the necessary  sensor and control infrastructure in order for a control loop to function.

The ultimate goal of this project will be the development of an autonomous control system for a miniature yacht that will be capable of taking a set of initial waypoints from the controller and executing them autonomously. The test environment will be the UCD lake. This project will involve significant collaboration with final year project students in the school of Engineering, including sharing of yacht resources.


implementing a sensor and control infrastructure that could allow a human or artificial agent to sail the yacht. It will not be necessary to test this on the UCD lake.


evaluate how the yacht behaves differently from the expected result on the water (i.e., evaluate how well it sails against a set of instructions)


Any of the following would be considered exceptional. These will involve overcoming the deviations observed in the discretionary section.:
- implementing control algorithms that will allow the yacht to sail autonomously on the UCD lake (e.g., sailing in controlled circles).
- implementing advanced control algorithms that will follow controller waypoints
- implementing safety protocols that will allow the yacht to return to base for recharging or in the case of hardware failures or adverse weather


America's Cup for Robots -
IRSC 2008 - International Robotic Sailing Conference -