Later this year, a toy boat is expected to be launched from a beach on the UK south coast and start an epic voyage lasting many months to reach it's destination on the USA east coast.
This model boat is just 1.3 metres long, has sails only 1 metre high, and weighs only 10kg. Much of the weight is the electronics needed for this boat to steer itself, using automatic GPS guidance, from the UK beach, westward along the English Channel, then south towards the Azores to catch the trade winds, then to the Bahamas and then onward to eventually land at it's final destination in the USA.
Robin Lovelock started this hobby project over four years ago, aided by local friends, and most of the testing is being done on Bray Lake near Maidenhead, just twenty minutes drive from his home. The prototype robot boats can now navigate themselves around the lake, and since April, "Snoopy Sloop 8", the boat expected to make the attempt, has been on 24/7 test, sailing back and forth in the corner of Bray Lake.
Bray Lake is the home of Bray Lake Watersports, and activities include wind-surfing, kayaking, swimming, sailing and even occasional bungee-jumping! The lake is a popular destination for organised groups of school children, youngsters, and even pensioners who like to show the youngsters how wind-surfing is done! Simon Frost owns Bray Lake Watersports and has a passion for all activities on the water. Robin got permission from Simon to test even crazier "hobby projects" - such as the GPS bottles thrown into the sea by BBC Radio Solent. Simon's guys have often had to rescue one of Robin's boats from the island, or an inaccessible bit of shore, in exchange for a donation to their "drinks kitty". However, as problems are found and fixed, these rescue missions are less frequent.
Robin's inspiration has been the (so far) unsuccessful attempts by international teams, competing to be the first robot boat to cross the Atlantic. These other teams have far more resources than Robin's "last of the summer wine" team, and often meet at international conferences on robotics. The French first suggested this friendly "Microtransat" competition maybe six years ago, and the rules are administered by Aberystwyth University, whose (larger) robot was recently shown on the BBC TV "Coast" programme. Few attempts have been made so far: the Welsh Team tried three years ago but their boat was last seen somewhere west of Ireland and they never did find it. The French have made two attempts. So far these robot boats have only survived for about 1 week. To make the crossing they will need months! Maybe they needed the experience of Snoopy the Viking!
Simon Frost, Bray Lake Watersports. Tel: 01628 638860 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.braylake.com
Robin Lovelock. Tel: 01344 620775. email: email@example.com www.gpss.co.uk/autop.htm