Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a small autonomous boat is braving wind and waves to demonstrate the power of solar energy. Isaac Penny and Christopher Sam Soon’s Solar Voyager embarked from Boston on June 1, and they hope it will land in Portugal in October.
Sam Soon and Penny, both engineers, began the project in 2013, with the goal of building a boat from scratch that could travel the world on its own. They aren’t the first to send an autonomous craft to sail the ocean – a 2012 Wave Glider that made the trip was powered by wave energy and financed by the company Liquid Robotics.
The engineers aren’t funded by a major company, and they built the boat themselves. Penny and Sam Soon worked on their Solar Voyager in their spare time after work. According to Penny, anyone can build a craft like they did.
The photovoltaic panels that power the Solar Voyager can generate 7 kilowatt hours (kWh) every day in the summer and 3 kWh in the winter. The boat is made from aluminum, which the engineers decided would be more resilient than the “glass reinforced plastic” used by other autonomous boats. The aluminum makes the Solar Voyager heavier and slower, but will help it resist shocks. The engineers monitor the boat through the Iridium satellite network, and can receive updated data every 15 minutes.
Penny said to TechCrunch, “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.”
You can keep up with the Solar Voyager and see where it is in the Atlantic here. The engineers are also looking for a boat owner in Portugal who can help them collect the Solar Voyager once it makes its journey.
Images via screenshot