Autonomous solar boat begins voyage across the Atlantic

Solar Voyager autonomous solar boat
© Solar Voyager

This potential solar first isn't funded or backed by a big company, but is instead an ambitious project built by two friends in their spare time.

The aptly named Solar Voyager is attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts, USA, to Portugal, powered solely by the sun, in a 3000 km autonomous journey expected to take about 4 months.

Isaac Penny and Christopher Sam Soon have been working on the solar boat project for about four years, and last year launched a kayak-based solar vessel, but have since designed and built a fully custom aluminum-hulled boat with a 240 W solar array to power the voyage. The Solar Voyager measures more than 4 meters long and about one meter wide, and employs a custom propulsion and electronics system, including a satellite-enabled tracking and data transmission component that allows the team to monitor its operation and progress.

Here's a quick look at the boat:

The vessel's current status can be seen here, and clicking on a data point (transmitted via the Iridium satellite network every 15 minutes) will bring up specifics on the boat's operation (speed, bearing, motor power, solar stats, GPS coordinates). The team's Twitter account is also providing some updates on the boat's progress.

According to an interview with TechCrunch, the Solar Voyager project isn't just about crossing the ocean with an autonomous vessel, but is also about promoting solar as a viable energy source:

"We always think about solar as this alternative energy thing, but you just couldn’t do this with fossil fuels — you couldn’t build something that will run forever. Whether it’s long endurance drones, or data gathering for maritime security, or monitoring wildlife preserves — solar isn’t just an alternative form of energy, it’s the best solution. It brings something to the table that nothing else has.” - Christopher Penny

For more details, or to contact the team, see the Solar Voyager website. And if you're in Lisbon, Portugal, or know someone who is, the team is looking for someone who owns a boat there to help them recover the Solar Voyager once it finishes its transatlantic journey sometime in October of this year.

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