Where were the first sailing boats built

One ocean - one vision

The Sailing Team Darmstadt has been working on autonomous sailing boats for over ten years. Initially, a prototype was built on the basis of a sailboat model kit from Robbe with a length of 1.1 meters. The model has GPS, compass and wind vane and is powered by a rechargeable battery. In 2013 the sailing team took part in the World Robotic Sailing Championship in Brest, France with the prototype I "Estelle" and won the "Most Professional Student Project Award".

The new energy self-sufficient Prototype II with a length of 2.2 meters and a mast height of 3.5 meters has been in construction since 2015. The sailing ship will take part in the Microtransat competition this year and will sail for the first time this year. In order to meet the challenges of autonomous driving across the ocean, the ship's sensors have been expanded compared to the first prototype. The location, temperature and humidity are also measured. Based on sensor data, the software should control the sails and the rudder and determine the route so that obstacles can be safely avoided.

The ship is equipped with the Automatic Identification System (AIS). This system is used in shipping to detect other ships within a radius of 30 kilometers. In addition to the name of the ship, its position, speed and destination port are transmitted. Theoretically, a sailing ship has right of way over motorized ships. "But we cannot expect a large tanker to change course by even one degree because there is a sailing boat," explains mechatronics student Philipp Horstenkamp, ​​long-time member and second chairman and group spokesman of the sailing team. The big ships are much too sluggish. That is why the sailboat must be able to adapt to the situation.

Energy as a challenge

The main advantage of AIS compared to a radar system is its low energy consumption. This is very relevant for the autonomous ship, since the energy required for the electronics as well as for the position of the sails and the rudder is only taken from a solar panel and stored in the battery. In addition, the ship's light must remain on all night so that the ship can be seen.

“We only use about 400 watt hours a day. You can't even leave a light bulb on all day, and we have to operate the robot, ”explains Philipp. For the same reason, the position of the sailing ship is only transmitted every three hours in accordance with the competition rules. The satellite communication required for this is expensive for two reasons: "Firstly - energy, secondly - financially," says Philipp. If the energy is not sufficient, the ship has to take a longer break from recharging. However, when it comes to competition, time is not what counts; the main thing is that the ship makes it across the ocean.

So far, no unmanned, energy self-sufficient boat has managed to autonomously cross the Atlantic from east to west. The Sailing Team Darmstadt would like to be the first group to master this challenge. The project is designed as an open source project. "After the competition is over, our software and construction plans will be visible and they can still be used," explains Tobias Nold, first chairman of the sailing team and team leader of the software group.

The hull for Prototype II and numerous other components were developed and designed by the students themselves. "We make it out of our ambition to make a difference and to realize ourselves," says Philipp Horstenkamp. “You also learn how to use simple craft tools such as cordless screwdrivers, files and sandpaper, but also how to operate the CNC milling machine and a 3D printer,” adds Marc-Simon Stutz. Marc is studying mechanical engineering in his master's degree and is a member of the mechanics team and the second assessor on the board.

The other components that could not be manufactured independently were sponsored by different companies. "We develop collaborations with manufacturers and other associations, such as the last one with Makerspace Darmstadt, and take on the press work," says Marc-Simon. He regrets the relative lack of public awareness of the topics of autonomous seafaring and autonomous sailing boats. Nobody knows competitions like the World Robotic Sailing Championship or the Microtransat. "That doesn't make the search for sponsors any easier," says Marc-Simon Stutz.

No stress from grading

The team members like the work around the sailing boat: "A separate project offers incredible learning opportunities, both technically and personally as well as in project management," says computer science student Felix Divo, CFO and member of the organizational and software groups in the Sailing Team Darmstadt. Felix has been in the team for over five semesters and speaks of the »freedom to do what you find interesting, without financial pressure or stress from grading«. Katharina Schäfer from the mechanics team also thinks it's a great thing to build a sailboat yourself: "I've sailed a few times on vacation and that's why I always have to think about vacation when I think about sailing boats." The industrial engineering student especially emphasizes technical specialization mechanical engineering the opportunity to combine theoretical knowledge with practice, which is particularly good for motivation in the course and for a better understanding of individual topics.

Sailing Team Darmstadt

The Sailing Team Darmstadt takes part in trade fairs and competitions. To test its own software, the team developed a simulation model of a sailboat and presented it at the International Robotic Sailing Conference (IRSC) in Southampton, UK, in September 2018. The group's 2019 project was also selected as a flagship project by New Automation e.V. and was exhibited at the Hanover Fair in April 2019.

Around 40 students and doctoral candidates are currently active in the project. The team consists of four groups: organization, software, electrical engineering and mechanics. Each group meets once a week to discuss tasks and problems in their area. There are also round tables where the interdisciplinary exchange is particularly relevant. Other interested parties and members are welcome in the sailing team.