Ada’s Journey Continues
Ada continues her journey across the Atlantic, and is currently about 800km from the coast of Spain/Portugal!
She has reached many important milestones throughout her journey:
- Travelled more than 4000km
- Exceeded a speed over ground of 12.41 knots
- Recovered after storm-induced power loss
- Withstood 50+ knot winds
- Survived for over a month with core systems intact on the open ocean
We continue to actively work to recover her, and have been generously sponsored by Marine Traffic to provide us with up-to-date AIS data, which we are using to get in touch with shipping lines and vessels. Despite making contact with a couple of liners, we have still had no success in spotting Ada, but our efforts in this regard continue.
New for 2016 – Ada 2.0
We intend to incorporate the lessons learned from Ada, good and bad, into her design, and have made some important progress already.
- Defined high-level design requirements
- Built high-level timeline
- Identified lessons learned from Ada 1.0 in a design retrospective document
- Networked with new and existing industry mentors to plan formal design reviews
- Found a new potential challenge with smaller logistical burden – the Vic-Maui Yacht Race (http://www.vicmaui.org/)
Dear autonomous sailing fans,
Ada, our autonomous sailboat, appears to have experienced a rudder control failure, probably mechanical in nature (servo or linkage), and is currently headed south on a close-hauled bearing. The failure occurred about 800km into her journey, in over 20 knots of wind, while she appeared to be planing at 12.41 knots. Up until that point, everything was working beautifully, and this trip had been a major success! Ada has already set multiple records on this journey, sailing further east than any boat ever has autonomously crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
We have fielded several questions now about potentially recovering Ada. Ada is over 800km from the nearest coastline (St. John’s, Newfoundland), and heading south into an even more desolate area of the Atlantic. Frommarinetraffic.com, we can see that the only ships in the vicinity of several hundreds of kilometres are tankers and cargo ships.
Previous boats that have attempted this trans-Atlantic voyage have been recovered: by the Canadian Navy, the Coast Guard, and fishing vessels. Ada isn’t near any of these types of vessels. She’s simply too far from the coast, and we think that these are the only types of vessels from which we can reasonably hope for assistance.
For now, Ada is truly on her own. We will daily consider the feasibility of a recovery given traffic in the region, but the opportunity for recovery might take several weeks or even months. In the meantime, Ada’s electrical and satellite systems seem to be working fine, and those will remain on to aide a recovery.
This has been an incredible journey with all of you, and we can’t thank you enough for your support! When we first began this project three years ago, we knew that we were attempting a crazy engineering challenge that would involve tens of thousands of volunteer hours, the support and true dedication of so many incredible individuals, and many all-nighters. This entire project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the University of British Columbia, our many sponsors, our amazing industry mentors and advisors, and the incredible people of Newfoundland who helped us every step along the way in the lead-up to saying good-bye to Ada as she began her trans-Atlantic voyage.
Just launching Ada from St. John’s and seeing her so successfully sail those first 800km has given our team the conviction that we really did accomplish something, and this failure is a great lesson for our team in our need to focus on iterative design, mechanical reliability of critical components, and component testing for future autonomous ocean-going boats!! We do hope to recover Ada, and we will monitor traffic daily in the region which could facilitate this. If recovery does take place, we would expect it to take place once Ada is much nearer to shore. Ada was just too good a sailor for the first 800km of her journey for us to realistically reach her right now!
We will continue to keep you updated on Ada, and will also soon be excited to share how this project will shape our next one in a few weeks! Our team’s dream for autonomous sailing continues, and we can’t wait for you to continue this voyage with us!
Our very own Ada testing lead and team mother, Vivian, spoke to CBC about our launch plans and progress so far. Watch the full video here.
The winds picked up earlier in the day, and we had a very successful sailing session to test updates to our routemaking algorithm. Testing went well, and high fives were thrown around. In the evening, the electrical team will be back at Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club adding safety features to some of the power electronics aboard Ada.
Winds in St. John’s did not pick up until around 6:00 PM, which gave the electrical team had some time to get some valuable diagnostics on our power control as well as communication between the micro controllers and the Battery Management System to enable live diagnostics and keep the team updated on Ada’s vitals. We hit a snag with a non-critical function earlier, so the lack of wind gave us a chance to work on bug squashing.
Days 19-24: Sailing and Testing in Conception Bay, Newfoundland
As a bit of background info, the RNYC docks are separated from the open waters of Conception Bay by a long breakwater. This creates a narrow channel that the boats go through under motor power, which we have to tow Ada through to reach the bay. However, right next to the docks is a more sheltered area, about the size of a large pond. On weekdays, it’s filled with kids learning how to sail, but it’s a great place to run system checks for Ada before getting into more dangerous environments.
Back to our testing efforts, on Sunday (Day 19) we were able to set sail in Newfoundland waters for the first time ever! It was an extremely rainy and windy day, so we stuck to the pond to test all of Ada’s systems and make sure our point to point sailing was still working. Having never sailed in 20 knot winds before, we were rather unprepared for how far Ada would heel over in such strong winds. Her 75kg keel meant that she recovered beautifully, and she passed the day’s tests with flying colors.
In the following days our cellular modem became extremely unreliable, so days 20-24 alternated between staying at the dock to resolve the issues with the modem and going out for hours to test Ada in Conception Bay. We got a little over-excited on our first day of sailing in open waters and covered over 30 km in one afternoon/evening, proving Ada’s long distance sailing abilities! The subsequent testing days focused more on fine details. Some highlights include:
- Sailing in octagons to test sailing abilities for every point of sail
- Successfully sailing to waypoints directly upwind and downwind
- Enabling routemaking code (Ada plotting her own short-term waypoints between longer distance ones we send her) for the first time and having it actually work without weeks of debugging!
- Spotting whales and sea otters out on the water
- Swearing that we wouldn’t open up Ada’s hatches because she is being stored in water, and then opening them up twice for cellular modem debugging and updating code
- Staying out until midnight working with headlamps to test new software for our control boxes
- Beginning to test Ada’s ability to avoid other ships using AIS (Automatic Identification System)
- Show and tell day with the young sailors
- The testing team getting really excited about burrito day at lunch
While our testing team rotated people on and off the chase boat, our home team kept everyone fed, made many more trips to hardware, marine, and grocery stores, and scouted out potential ships for launching Ada. We have been very encouraged so far with the progress we’ve made on the sailing days we’ve had. Ada has been passing the tests our software team throws at her with flying colors, so we are well on our way to launching her in time to get our team back to UBC for the start of school!
Day 17: Moving out of MUN
Soon enough, we arrived at the day we planned to move out of MUN. There was a rush that morning to finish our remaining tasks to be done in the workshop. The members of the electrical and software teams coordinated to finish integrating the relay circuit for the motors. Meanwhile, Madie and Riley made friends in the tech machine shop who were kind enough to help bend a stainless steel plate into place to complete the rudder mechanism.
Mechanically, Ada was ready to move out, and with this being a Friday, we didn’t want to be trapped in MUN for the rest of the weekend given that we needed Craig, the lab supervisor, to open a bay door for us. So, we moved Ada outside of the lab and continued working in the parking lot for the rest of the evening, watching the cloudy sky carefully in case of rain.
Luckily, it stayed dry, and Ada happily spent the night in her trailer outside of the team house.
Day 18: Moving into RNYC
Things went fairly smoothly with moving Ada into her new (and last) home at the RNYC. We put the keel on, craned her into the water, and towed her to her dock space by mid-afternoon. A big shout out to Steve for coming in on his day off to operate the crane! Ada was visited by many members of the RNYC that day, and continues to be throughout her stay here. Everyone here is so enthusiastic about our project and wants to help in anyway possible. It’s amazing!
The next three days were a flurry of working in the MUN lab, late nights, shopping trips, and many meals brought to MUN. Some highlights include:
- Meeting many supportive people at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club: the Commodore, Leo Quigley, the Manager, Lori Anderson, the crane operator, Steve, and the President of Sail Newfoundland and provincial team coach, RyanKelly who sponsored us in kind with an amazing Zodiac chase boat
- Connor, Madie, and Oscar joining Dave, one of the members of RNYC, on his sailboat Nomad for Wednesday evening racing, winning their division and receiving compliments on their spinnaker skills
- Head chefs Jordan and Connor arranging a fantastic team dinner featuring bangers and mash late on Thursday evening at MUN to keep the workshop team fueled up
Otherwise, these days settled into a pattern of arriving at MUN in the morning and working through the day until we had to leave the lab at 11pm. The team only stopped for lunch and dinner when our home team brought meals to MUN to enable short mealtime breaks, and thus more working hours. Sprinkled throughout were lots of runs to grocery, hardware, and marine stores.
The electrical team did a great job of reinstalling Ada’s guts and catching any errors along the way. A new rudder motor was installed, more testing was done on our charge controllers, a relay circuit to switch power to the motors (which was previously installed but not used) was re-implemented due to power considerations and we verified that no connectors were failing.
The mech team overhauled a few components on Ada: replacing the rubber bow skin, reassembling the rudder mechanism, applying Loctite to many fasteners, replacing the rudder motor and making clamps hold the port side control box securely in place inside the main hatch. They also added a foul weather retrieval system, in case we encountered conditions where it wouldn’t be safe to come up right alongside Ada to attach a tow line
Finally, the software team worked night and day, not only from the team house and MUN but also remotely from Montreal and Vancouver, continuing to improve existing functionality and add new intelligent behaviors. All components of the system benefited from significant improvements; most notably satellite communication and routemaking since all the individual components were ready for integration. Despite the countless hours of hard work that was put into obstacle detection and avoidance using our infrared cameras, it was decided that our machine learning algorithms had not been exposed to enough data that simulated Atlantic sailing. Even though the code is finished, there is not sufficient time to test it to make sure that it actually helps Ada more than hurts her. As such, Sailbot software decided to implement an image service that will record data for the duration of Ada’s Atlantic journey, training our obstacle detection for our future projects. The control systems are now very stable and are able to account for a wide variety of scenarios, including sensor failures, power failures, and more.
Picking up where we left off on Day 10, we find ourselves on Saturday, July 30. The team members in Newfoundland at that point spent the day sleeping (recovering from the marathon sprint across Canada), getting to know our landlords, and scoping out the nearest Tim Hortons, Subway, and Domino’s.
We were very interested to learn that Wayne and Julie, our landlords, run a whale rescue program out of the St. John’s area. Like all of the Newfies we met, they are super nice and helpful people, going out of their way to find more mattresses for the 10 people staying in the team house.
After spending a day recovering, we finally found the energy to get some real work done on Day 12. The mech team made a temporary fix for the broken back axle on our cradle so that we would be able to move Ada out of the trailer into the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).
Lots of food was purchased to feed the bottomless pits found in many of our team members’ stomachs—dinner included a curry that was delicious, but perhaps a little too spicy for some members:
“It’s so good, but it tastes like pain!” –Chantelle
Riley and Connor also performed city reconnaissance by going down to the George street festival to visit UBC Engineering Physics class mate, Theoren. He has kindly allowed us to ship various packages to his address before we arrived in Newfoundland, as well as assisting us in finding resources in the city.
UBC Sailbot owes Justin Royce, Emma Williams, Dennis Peters, Craig Mitchell, MUN Sailbot Team and affiliated members of MUN big time for arranging some space in the fluids/hydraulics lab in the engineering building and other resources at MUN for us! We moved into our corner of the lab on Monday (Day 13) and met Craig, the lab’s coordinator. After receiving the safety orientation, we could finally get to work!
The mech team used the 5’ aluminum bar Oscar flew over with him to replace the back axle of Ada’s cradle and removed the torn rubber skin on Ada’s bow. The electrical team started reinstalling all of the electronics into Ada. Software resumed their efforts to finish and debug code for routemaking, satellite communication, and various other functions.
The launch team gained two members this day with the arrival of Jordan in the morning and Madie in the evening by flight. After a loud team family dinner, Jemima and Madie moved into a Couchsurfing apartment with Dan, a systems engineer at MUN. They certainly appreciated having easy access to a shower and a quiet environment whenever they wanted to sleep, instead of the rather bustling house team.