2017 Update – Ada 2.0 Progress

Hello, UBC Sailbot blog followers, and Happy New Year!

We at Sailbot have a bunch of exciting updates for this new academic term which we would like to take this opportunity to share. First, development of our new vessel is proceeding very well, and we have made great strides in designing her new systems, be they mechanical, electrical, control, and software. Second, we will be at the Vancouver Boat Show next week – drop by and say hi!

Our new vessel, currently codenamed Ada 2.0, will operate much closer to home – goals for her include competition in the Vic-Maui Yacht race, as well as intensive local testing and development of a highly sophisticated marine obstacle avoidance system.

Our new vessel will be a more “traditional” boat than was Ada. She will feature a sloop rig, which will allow better performance at a wide range of points of sail. She will also feature a dual rudder, which will decrease the chances of failure by reducing the force on the individual rudders, and by decreasing the size of each rudder, which will passively reduce the chance of fouling. The hull hydrodynamics of Ada 2.0 are based on modified hull designs of successful long-range single-handed racing sailboats, and four hull designs are currently being analyzed with various naval architecture software including MAXSURF and ShipMo3D. This analysis will be finished in late January, and we plan to build the hull using molded composite construction this upcoming summer.

The basic building blocks of our power system have been identified, and our designs have been reviewed by various industry experts from Energus, Solara, Victron and the UBC lab funded by our sponsor, Alpha Technologies. We are currently working on the AIS system and the integration thereof.

Our new electrical and control system will also be highly modular, and will use the CANBUS communication protocol to achieve this. Our reusable communications module will greatly reduce the complexity, and increase the reliability, isolation, and ease of testing of our boat’s new electrical and control systems.

Finally, our software team has been hard at work completely revamping our vessel systems. This past term has been focussed on exploration of and familiarization with these more advanced systems. Our new global pathfinding system will provide more accurate point-to-point navigation, and the new local pathfinding system will accurately model vessel dynamics and will allow safer navigation in hazardous conditions such as harbours. Our obstacle detection will feature a LIDAR – although we so far do not have a unit of our own, we have been working closely with other groups to get data so that we can develop robust capabilities for detecting and identifying multiple obstacles.

We are excited and inspired by the fast pace of development we have been able to achieve – we hope to see you at the Vancouver Boat Show, where we can tell you about this in person.

Gavin Lim (Power Co-Lead), Melika Salehi (Electrical Member), Mahela Cooray (Power Member), Francisco Paz (Solar Power Mentor), Serena Ramley (Team Captain)

Days 11-13 – Getting Set Up in Newfoundland

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).

Ada's support rig while installing the temporary fix to the cradle

Ada’s support rig while installing the temporary fix to the cradle

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


One of the smaller team family dinners

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!

Our workspace in the MUN Engineering Building with Ada propped up to permanently fix the cradle

Our workspace in the MUN Engineering Building with Ada propped up to permanently fix the cradle

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.

Vancouver to Newfoundland – Roadtrip


UBC Sailbot is a team of engineering students who design and build autonomous sailboats. In 2004, our team began building what would be our first vessel to enter the International Robotic Sailing Regatta. After claiming first place three years in a row from 2012-2014, our team decided we were ready for a bigger challenge: we would build a sailboat to cross the Atlantic by itself. After three years of work our boat Ada is finally ready for our journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and, we hope, for her journey across the ocean.

Day 0

The last day of preparation in Rusty Hut (the UBC warehouse where Ada has been kept during her construction) consisted mostly of packing. To celebrate the beginning of our final journey, our team went for a celebratory meal at a local pie shop.

Team pie after taking Ada back to Rusty the last time

Tools were moved, packed and put into two vehicles that will be crossing Canada. Ada was carefully wheeled into the trailer, and her keel was strapped onto the cradle with fire hose. A Suburban SUV served as the main transportation vehicle, which housed six passengers and towed Ada in the trailer. Drivers of this car were well-trained for tough days of trailer-driving. A secondary vehicle, nicknamed Millie, fit the other four members of the launch team.


Ada’s trailer

Once the tools were packed and the checklists checked, the crew gathered together for one last celebration in Rusty Hut. To mark the occasion, several members of the team dyed their hair blue. Blue is the colour of the ocean, and of Sailbot’s main logo. Everything was done, and we were ready to set off.

Freshly blue Ian

Dying hair in rusty

About to bleach Vivian’s hair


Day 1

The launch team started early, with team Millie heading off first, followed shortly by the Suburban.

Team photo day one leaving my house

Launch Team (from left): Cody, Vivian, Riley, Kurtis, Connor, Jemima, Alan, and Chantelle


IMG_20160731_191938 (1)

Millie Team: Chantelle, Connor, Jemima and Riley

Suburban Team: Cody, Gabe, Vivian, Alan, Ian and Kurtis. Also pictured, Alan with a cold and asleep.

We travelled through the Okanagan, stopping for fresh fruit and produce. Shortly after, we hit the Rockies.


Alberta’s mountains

After nine hours of driving, the launch team finally gathered and rested in Banff. There, we had a meal of smokies, chicken, corn and tofu.

Day 2

The team got up early to prep a great campsite breakfast of coffee, tea and homemade parfaits.

After a bit of deliberation, the team decided that our secondary vehicle, Millie, might not be able withstand another six thousand kilometres on top of the 400 000 km’s already on her. So, we went to Enterprise, which gave us a student discount on a Chevy Malibu which we used for the rest of our trip. We promptly dubbed the new car Phyllis.


Signing for Phyllis

Signing for Phyllis

Halfway into our drive, Riley got a phone call from his radiologist. As it turns out, his ankle was broken instead of sprained. With bone fragments floating in Riley’s ankle team Phyllis pushed through to Regina where they were able to drop Riley off in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Suburban team installed sway bars for the trailer. Endless fields of Canola later, both cars spent the night in a RV campground 10 minutes down from the hospital. This was our second late night in a row. With the exception of Riley, who spent the night in the hospital, everyone slept deeply and soundly.

Monotonous but beautiful Canola fields.

Monotonous but beautiful Canola fields.

Day 3

We started off the third day with blueberry pancakes.


Connor and Chantelle making pancakes

Connor and Chantelle making pancakes

Riley, now freshly in an air cast for his ankle, was picked up from the hospital in the morning. Refreshed and renewed, we headed off for Ontario. On the third day, our vehicles travelled through three provinces. Obviously, it was quite a long driving day. Luckily, the Malibu ran ahead of the suburban and trailer and prepped a meal of butter chicken for the team.

More endless fields, this time with trains!

More endless fields, this time with trains!

Getting some sun on our longest driving day.

Getting some sun on our longest driving day.

Day 4

We planned for a quick breakfast and an early start. Since day four was to be our shortest driving day, we had hoped to be at the campsite for about 4pm. However, as we were packing up for our departure, we discovered that Ada’s cradle had broken.


Ada’s broken cradle.

Our plans for an early start had been dashed; instead we stayed until 1pm at the campsite to put together a fix for the cradle. The wooden axle beam broke from vibrations on the road. To fix it, the mechanical team came up with an workable plan: they created a gusset to patch the broken beam to last only until arrival at Memorial University in St. John’s, at which point the entire beam would be replaced with an aluminium version. This aluminium beam was designed by Dave Tiessen, one of our former mechanical leads, then was generously manufactured on short notice in Vancouver at Fluxwerx Illumination. Oscar Janzen, one of our current members, packed the beam in with flew out to St. John’s with the beam.

We did get to pit stop by Canada’s largest goose in Wawa, Ontario.


Jemima, Connor, Riley, Chantelle


Gabe, Alan, Cody, Vivian, Kurtis, Ian

Day 5

After a refreshing sleep and a quick breakfast by the water, we headed off to our last campsite in Ontario.

Due to good traffic conditions, Phyllis’ team made it the next campsite in Ontario for 6pm, and began cooking black bean chowder. Meanwhile, the Suburban was slogging its way through a torrential rain storm roughly an hour behind the Phyllis team. Environment Canada had released a severe storm warning, and team Phyllis was blissfully unaware. A phone call from the Suburban later, team Phyllis was madly packing up camp to beat the rain. We drove to the next town over, Sudbury, and found a Best Western for the night.


Getting ready for bed at Best Western

Day 6

We definitely took advantage of the continental breakfast.

Jemima, Cody, Connor and Gabe tucking in

Jemima, Cody, Connor and Gabe enjoying breakfast.

Since the team had enjoyed a great rest at the hotel, the Suburban crew went for a visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Four launch team members took Phyllis directly to the next campsite in Quebec, to enjoy a swim and a hike in the wilderness instead.

Kurtis, Vivian, Cody, Jemima, Alan, Ian

Kurtis, Vivian, Cody, Jemima, Alan, Ian

About an hour after the group in Phyllis entered the campground, we received another rain warning from Environment Canada. It would very likely be stormy again that evening. We scoured AirBnb and found a nice little apartment for our two days in Montreal.

Quick and tired dinnertime.

It was located in the 10th safest district, next to a park with a swimming pool. Tiredly, we piled in, reheated leftovers and went to bed.

Day 7


The entire team took a rest day in Montreal. Alan, who had been sick for the last few days, left the house alarmingly early to tour all the metro stations in the city, and bring back a full detailed report of architecture in every station. Kurtis followed soon after.

The rest of us had a lazy day in the apartment, and left to see some of the city around 2pm. We stopped by a beautiful church, then headed down to a park by the water. There, we found small remote controlled boats racing in a pond. The team enjoyed some ice cream and took a nap.


Ice cream in the park


Team nap


That evening, we headed to Google’s Montreal office for a tour from our software subteam lead, Arek. We worked up an appetite after seeing all the joys that working for Google had to offer, and promptly went for poutine at a nearby pub.


Poutine for all!

Day 8

Riley had an exam to write in Montreal, so Team Phyllis cleaned the apartment and packed up the remaining camping supplies. As Riley had been unable to experience all the joys Montreal had to offer the day before, we took a dinner stop in a very small town just before leaving Quebec. The primary language was indisputably French, so we were very glad to have the bilingual Connor Vandenberg with us to order our meals.


Poutine, again.

On the final stretch of our drive for the day, we were once again plagued by a hailstorm. For safety’s sake, we pulled over beneath an underpass to protect our rental vehicle until the worst of the storm passed.

Day 9

In the morning, we packed up at our final campsite and took drove eight long hours to the ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Along the way, we saw many small towns advertising lobster dinners. Salivating, we decided to wait until we hit the city with the ferry port to eat. Upon our long awaited arrival in Port aux Basuqes, we discovered that the only lobster joint in town was booked fully. We just made it on the evening ferry, and the team immediately went to sleep on the extremely comfortable recliners.

Team Sleep

Team Sleep

Day 10

Upon awakening at 7am, the ferry had docked. We promptly got off the boat and straight into Tim Horton’s. We were surprised and charmed by the Newfoundland accents from the Timmy’s cashiers. Our drivers then took shifts in both vehicles until the launch team and Ada arrived safe and sound in St. John’s. We are graciously hosted here in St. John’s by Julie and Wayne Ledwell, who heard about our project from this very blog!

Our home away from home. From left: Ian, Cody, Vivian, Connor, Chantelle, Jemima, Alan, Gabe, Riley, Kurtis, Oscar

Our home away from home. From left: Ian, Cody, Vivian, Connor, Chantelle, Jemima, Alan, Gabe, Riley, Kurtis, Oscar

Final Countdown to Atlantic Launch Begins!

We’ve been tardy updating this blog in awhile! It’s not for lack of effort; in fact, the opposite! It’s because our 67-member student team at the University of British Columbia has been so dedicated to working on our boat in preparation for this summer that we have not been the best stewards of this blog these past few months! But moving forwards, we will be interspersing technical posts with our team updates and plans for the summer, like this post!

56 days left to Newfoundland

We now have a countdown of the number of days until our departure for Newfoundland and it’s only a brief 56 days!

Three years ago, we set ourselves a goal of completing our amazing transatlantic boat in just two years. That estimate was based on our experience building smaller 2m-long boats, which we competed with in the International Sailing Regatta for years.  Fast forwards to today and we’re more confident than ever that this definitely should have been a three year project given the complex mechanical components as well as advanced hardware and software systems that are on board.   

At the beginning of summer 2015, we realized that to launch Ada in August would have meant sailing with poorly tested hardware, software missing critical obstacle detection and redundancy functionality, and without having the opportunity to move most of our electrical hardware over to marine-quality PCB’s. While our team was extremely enthused about the trip and the thought of missing it was almost unthinkable, the right engineering decision was to properly implement and test everything on the boat as we had planned. It was with heavy hearts that we postponed our trans-Atlantic crossing for one year. Since September, we have been alternating between testing our boat on water, made possible by the generous support of Kitsilano Yacht Club, and making improvements to our boat’s systems based on our on-water testing experiences. Our team members have been so dedicated that they have even tested when there have been storm warnings issued by Environment Canada for our testing days!


It’s been an interesting experience testing over the winter, but our entire team is very much looking forward to better summer weather and taking Ada into more open water over the next two months.


Which brings us to today and, more specifically, this summer of 2016!


This summer we are definitively going to be in Newfoundland launching! We have a core group of experienced members who have been with this project since the beginning, many of whom are about to graduate, but who are absolutely committed to seeing this boat attempt a world record as the last part of their journey as engineering students. For many of us, it will be the highlight of our time at UBC, teaching us practical skills that complement our coursework theory as well as pushing us to budget and manage a project that we are extremely proud of. We hope that our enthusiasm for this amazing project will inspire others to pursue careers in STEM and imagine new ways of incorporating sustainable energy and autonomous algorithms. To that end, we have chosen a definitive departure date from Vancouver to travel to Newfoundland for launch: July 20th. We’re already in the process of booking accommodations for the entire leg of our journey as well as  coordinating our arrival with our supporters in Newfoundland.

We’re driving across the country with Ada in tow and should be in St John’s, Newfoundland on July 29th. From there, we are giving ourselves a 2-week ideal window to re-rig the boat, double-check all the systems, and wait for ideal launch weather. If the weather isn’t compliant, we can afford to stay another week, but we’re hoping to avoid that as the weather tends to get worse in the Atlantic towards the very end of August.

The actual arrival of Ada in Ireland is obviously dependent on a lot of factors, but we’re anticipating a 2-3 week voyage, putting us into the very end of August or, more realistically, the first week of September.

In terms of where the team is immediately at as of today, we were testing on-water up until the beginning of exams a few weeks ago. With exams now firmly behind us, we have a core group of 12 members who have committed to seeing this project through to completion, and have foregone all work this summer to achieve that. This summer team is essentially treating UBC Sailbot as a job, and have been working on Ada  from 10am to at least 7pm every day, Monday through Saturday.Some members of our team who are working this summer are also dedicated to this project and coming in after work to help out in the evenings.While we have done so much to date, there is still a lot of testing and refinement to be completed. Our launch from Newfoundland is definitely going to happen this summer, and we’re giving it our best effort possible to give Ada the very best chances for success!

As of this past week, some of our team members installed a new bow (which we designed separate from the hull) on the boat; the bow we had on it before was a prototype bow that was the right form, but didn’t have the structural integrity designed for impact. The new bow has plastically deforming Impaxx foam, typically used in Formula 1 cars for crash mitigation, combined with layers of elastically deforming foam designed to reduce the effect of minor collisions. This is a precautionary measure taken should our two obstacle detection systems fail to detect anything on the water (AIS and infrared cameras). We’re trying to maximize our chances of success wherever possible on the boat.

We’ve also added MPPT’s (maximum powerpoint tracking) to our power system this week to increase our solar power efficiency, after we discovered that on cloudy days the solar panels by themselves don’t deliver enough power to always trigger our charge controllers. That was obviously problematic. The new system has proven beneficial during land testing thus far  but requires more testing under variable sunlight to fully release results. Another electrical area still under development is the conversion of our prototype electrical boxes over to PCB’s now that we’re confident in their design from previous testing.

Finally, one of our Gold Sponsors, Trident Sports, has provided our team with a speciality european sail rig for our boat that is perfectly suited for the rigours of the Atlantic Ocean! We’re extremely grateful to Trident Sports for their support. This was a really exciting development, after testing with an old, well-used sail over the winter! We haven’t had the opportunity to reinforce our new sail yet or add all of our sponsor logos, but that’s a priority in the next week or two. We’ll have much better photos to share on this blog with the new sail very soon!

For the actual Microtransat competition, we will be launching from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Memorial University has very kindly offered us the use of a workshop while we are there. We also have our trip getting to Newfoundland planned out day-by-day: it’s an 8-day sprint across the country, including the 19 hour ferry trip from Cape Breton Island to Newfoundland! While it may seem a bit crazy driving across the country, we discovered that this is actually far more cost-effective than shipping the boat in a container, and flying our team members to Newfoundland. Moving forwards, something we have to put some more effort into is the arrival location in Ireland, and the logistics surrounding that. We tentatively envision landing near Galloway, Ireland, but would be very eager for advice and local knowledge on this, including the logistics of boat recovery once Ada makes it across the Atlantic.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting new photos of our boat sailing out of Vancouver. We’re also hoping to be obtaining some drone footage of our testing which we will be sharing on the website. Our test plan for the next two months incrementally increases in difficulty, and we’re committed to sailing the boat around the tip of Vancouver Island to the true West Coast for some open ocean weather. Then it’s off to Newfoundland and then Ireland for the true adventure! Stay tuned for far more frequent pictures and updates to come!

Messenger #15 – Ada’s Maiden Sail

Messenger #15
Robotic Ada is Sailing in Vancouver Waters

Ada is sailing! After 2 years of hard work, design and construction, our transatlantic robotic sailboat “Ada” has begun sailing in the Vancouver English Bay as of October 2015. Thank you to everyone who has been with us from the beginning or embarked part way in this adventure.

The past few months were dedicated to rigorous safety and reliability tests on the electrical and waterproofing systems. Our power and control systems are now working in the boat, and we are looking forward to installing our infrared cameras in preparation for the obstacle-detection testing.

You may see us “out sailing” near Kitsilano Yacht Club again for many weekends to come in the new year in preparation for the Atlantic journey ahead in Summer 2016! You can see a few photos and videos of Ada’s maiden sail here:


This is a significant milestone for our Microtransat Challenge project, and it wouldn’t have been possible without tens of thousands of hours of work by our student team members, and the incredible support of the engineering community and industry sponsors in Vancouver and around the world.

We will be testing our power-monitoring electronics, redundancy, GPS, AIS, obstacle avoidance and route-making sequentially to bring Ada into full autonomous capability. As much as possible, we have simulated and tested the vessel’s mechanical, electrical and software systems prior to their integration into the whole boat. We also want to optimize the centre of effort and buoyancy, as well as install a better sail for peak sailing performance.

The UBC SailBot Testing Team

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Story of IRSR 2014

by UBC SailBot IRSR 2014 team: Serena Ramley, Kurtis Harms, Josh Andrews, Arek Sredzki, Jian Lik Ng, Tu Anh Le, Tobias Kreykenbohm, Jamie Lee, Bryan Luu, Kristoffer Vik Hansen,  Daniel Kim, and Youssef Basha.

After several weeks of thorough testing, both on land and on the water with the help of UBC Sailing Club and Hollyburn Sailing Club, the UBC SailBot competition team headed to the International Robotic Sailing Regatta 2014, hosted by ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and California Maritime Academy. The venue was California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, and this is the story of IRSR 2014.

Saturday June 7 – Practice Day 1

Just like IRSR 2013, we were the first team to arrive, making sure we didn’t waste any valuable practice time. For the first practice day we assembled our racing sailboat setup and organised all our tools and equipment for the following competition week in California.


The UBC SailBot competition team at California Maritime Academy

Already the first afternoon we were able to put our robotic sailboat entry, Thunderbird 2013 (TB2013), in the ocean, with winds reaching a steady 5-8 knots. Getting TB2013 on the water the first day is very critical, as it allows us to check that the whole system is up and running, just like it had been for the past weeks in Vancouver.

Unfortunately, within 10 minutes of being on the water, the halyard on the main sail snapped. With the sun setting, we dedicated the rest of the night to repair the boat and fix up details to make Sunday the best possible testing before the competition.

Jamie and Tobias carrying the boat back for repairs on the halyard

Jamie and Tobias carrying the boat back for repairs on the halyard

Sunday June 8 – Practice Day 2

Although the forecast predicted 15 knots throughout the week, we wanted to be as prepared as possible. We even brought our largest rig, which is designed for winds less than 5 knots. It was definitely worthwhile as the wind during practice day 2 was under 5 knots, a rare low this close to San Francisco.

By Sunday evening everything was ready for competition. However, just before finishing up for the day the wind sensor, one of our most delicate components, broke while rigging the boat on land. Everyone quickly mobilized, and using the amazing knowledge and testing experience we have internally in the competition team, it did not take long before the wind sensor was as good as new.