I like sailboats, I like robots, so naturally I was pleased to find this story about sailing robots. The Times of London reports that seven robotic sailing craft will race across the Atlantic Ocean in October 2008. One of them, ‘Pinta the robot sailing boat,’ has been designed at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. Pinta is expected to sail for three months at a maximum speed of four knots (about 4.6 mph or 7.4 kilometers per hour). Its designers hope the Pinta will become the first robot to cross an ocean using only wind power. Here is a quote from Mark Neal, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University.

“This is the first time anybody has attempted to sail across any ocean with an automated boat. The big issue in robotics at the moment is longevity and flexibility in a complicated environment. Something that can survive for two to three months completely unassisted while doing something interesting is a major challenge. If it does get there I will be seriously cheerful. It will open up all the oceans to environmental monitoring by robots.”

This is a cool thing. Giving it some thought, it seems like it could be really tricky managing conventional fabric sails automatically, so many ways to lines to tangle or get caught in unpredictable ways. I guess it is not surprising then to see the robot boat in this picture appears to be using a vertical wing type of sail. The real question is, will they program them to talk like pirates? “Avast ye scurvey dogs, that does not compute!” or maybe “Arrrr mateys, me hard drive be full!”

Over at Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends he has more details and lots of good links.

Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends via Slashdot