BlueBoats in the wild…

Hi all,

I was just wondering if those who have taken delivery of a BlueBoat have any feedback from using it in anger?

I’ve seen the vessel in action at an exhibition in the UK, but I’m keen to see if anyone has any field feedback from the system?

I’m keen to add one into our business as an extra capability, so any feedback would be much appreciated.

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@Michaelmo134 watch this space - we’ve received them and are currently planning a few 1st test sailings. I’ll ensure we update here.
First impressions are very positive so far!

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We just had the first trial run here in Norway today and it’s performing great!
Tried only manual control today but this has great potential.

Recommended!

Pob747

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I want to know if anyone is using a distance of over 100 meters. When we use BlueBoat outdoors, we find that once the distance exceeds 50 meters, the network signal becomes difficult to use, and there may even be some delay

Hi @MMMMK,

With the included antennas, a BlueBoat should be reachable from its BaseStation with up to ~1km of separation, assuming a clear line of sight and weather. If you’re not getting that kind of performance then I’d recommend checking our positioning the BaseStation guidelines, and if that still doesn’t help then you should try contacting our support email (support@bluerobotics.com) because there may be something faulty with your hardware.

Hi @MMMMK
I’ve had similar performance to you with the included omnidirectional antennas. Getting more height on both sides of the link can radically improve performance. The range can really benefit from flat, glassy-calm water - a bit of chop makes the RF link a radically different multi-path environment. A directional antenna can further boost this, but especially in noisy RF environments it will be a struggle. This tool can help evaluate your link, especially if you configure it for a similar radio in the 2.4ghz range as shown here:

You ideally would have none of the parabolas make contact with the surface of the ocean.

I found trying to maintain the link stressful, and so outfit the boat with a 4G cellular connection. With zerotier on the boat and my phone, I can even operate the vehicle with a paired Bluetooth controller -a truly great mobile solution that is a huge reduction in range anxiety.
Happy motoring!

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Hello All,

Yesterday was our first waterborne test run with the BlueBoat and I wanted to share some lessons learned that might be helpful for others.

First off, the boat was very easy to fold up, setup, and launch. We were ready to roll within minutes, very happy with that.

Our first lesson learned occurred after we first connected the boat to the BaseStation and fired up QGroundControl. Within a minute or so, QGroundControl indicated that it was connected to the boat and ready for launch. We immediately put the boat in the water, put the control into Manual mode, and started driving away. What we didn’t do was wait for the boat’s GPS and other sensors to boot up and be ready for use, which takes an additional minute or two upon connection. QGroundControl doesn’t seem to take this into account when it deems it ready to launch. So when we launched the boat before the GPS was configured (we verified this afterward using the vehicle status feature in QGroundControl), the GPS positioning was all over the place on the flight map. We assumed this was due to bad calibration, so we made sure to keep the vehicle in manual mode. We recovered the boat, power cycled the boat, and rebooted QGroundControl. This time, we waited for the boat status to say that the GPS was successfully booted up and calibrated before we put it in the water. Once the positioning was stable, we relaunched in the water and everything worked perfectly. If this scenario is repeatable for others, I would recommend that the Operator’s Guide be updated to say something to the effect of wait for the GPS position to be complete with its boot up cycle prior to putting in the water.

Our next lesson learned occurred when we were testing the limits of the BlueBoat’s wireless range. In Manual mode, we drove the boat away from the BaseStation, and comms was lost with the boat. When the boat lost communication, it continued traveling away from the BaseStation and we had no way to stop it. The boat continued to drive until it hit land on the other side of the pond. We had to get in our kayak and rescue the boat. This event occurred during our first launch where the GPS positioning was not stable, so I believe what happened is that when the boat lost comms, it tried to return to launch, but had no idea where it was located and so it traveled the wrong direction while returning to launch. This brings up two main points. First, there is no way to emergency stop the vehicle when comms is lost. I believe that the boat is setup to return to launch if comms is lost, so this might not be an issue if the GPS positioning is accurate. Second, when we went into the vehicle setup window on QGroundControl under the “Safety” section, it said that the vehicle did not support the Safety feature. I’m curious if this means that we cannot change the default setting for when the boat loses comms. It might be nice to have the ability to tell it to turn off its motors if it loses comms in some cases. I understand that QGroundControl is expecting the use of a flying drone where shutting down the propellers would result in an undesired result (crash landing). But regardless, it might be a good idea to put something in the Operator’s Guide to explain what to expect if there is loss of comms with the boat and what to do in case of emergency.

Outside of these events, we are happy with the boat’s performance and how easy it is to use it. We are going to look into ways to extend its range, whether it be using a directional WiFi antenna and/or using a cellular modem. Excited to do more testing and to integrate our payload at some point in the near future.

Thanks,
Gabe

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Hi Gabe, thank you for sharing your experience and spare us from some trouble.

Do you have an estimate of the off-the-shelf range of the wifi comms link? What was the height of the antenna above the surface?
Costas

Hi Costas,

My best estimation for off-the-shelf WiFi range was about 200 meters (using Google Maps). That was roughly the point where comms was lost. I was a little surprised that we lost comms so close to the BaseStation. I tried to keep the antenna pointed towards the boat throughout the test. The BaseStation was on a tripod that was placed on a table, and I estimate it was about 6 feet off the ground.

On our second deployment with proper GPS fix, we didn’t chance pushing the limits a second time because we didn’t want to have to kayak to retrieve it again. We are planning on another test soon to try this out. But maybe our poor GPS fix the first time had an effect on the WiFi range?

Gabe

Hi Gabe,
I doubt GPS fix had anything to do with WiFi range. Certainly an external GPS antenna would help getting an accurate fix. Have you considered a directional WiFi antenna for the basestation? I am looking forward to hearing how your second test goes.
Costas

Hi Gabe & Costas -
Costas - the GPS antenna is right under the deck, so I don’t think an external GPS antenna would help much. Waiting a minute or two after startup to get GPS lock is important - I’ve not had issues there, with the GPS routinely getting 25-30 satellites locked within 120 seconds. If you are in an area with a lot of radio interference, or heavy cloud cover, GPS signal quality may be reduced.

Gabe, sorry you had some run-away boat issues! The parameter you should checkout that is related to behavior on signal-loss is RC-Failsafe.
set FS_THR_ENABLE to “1” to enable this failsafe
if FS_ACTION is “1”, the vehicle will RTL to home, if “2” the vehicle will Hold, if “3” or “4” the vehicle will attempt to use SmartRTL but if this mode cannot be engaged the vehicle will RTL or Hold respectively.

I’m glad you recovered the boat without issue!

No calibration of the GPS is necessary. The calibration of the boats motion sensors is required, but this would not affect the position of the vessel on the map, only the behavior of the artificial horizon and compass. I’ve not seen the jump-around issue happen before - any idea how many satellites were locked on when this occurred? This is visible at the top center of QGroundControl, and if clicked, displays the HDOP - or horizontal degree of precision.

When using the vessel with 4G communications, I have the failsafe disabled as it is common to have the occasional communication blip. Sending an E-Stop with no connection to the vehicle is inherently not possible!

The ~200m range for 2.4ghz WiFi omnidirectional antennas is expected. You can improve this by raising the BaseStation antenna height, but you definitely don’t want to “point” the omni-directional antenna at the boat. It is radiating perpendicular to its long axis, so pointing it at the boat minimizes the radio power in the direction of the tip. Overall, the higher the BaseStation the better! Connecting to it with the control computer via WiFi can make using it at extreme heights more convenient.

When it comes to our documentation, we are definitely working to mature and improve things! Thanks so much for the feedback. I would think that for radio range tests, Auto mode is much more suitable than Manual. You would disable the failsafe, and setup a mission that may drive out of range, but will end within range. You then execute the mission, and observe at what distances you lose and re-gain communication. Directional antennas can greatly increase the range, but increasing the height of the antenna on the boat with an extension can also lead to improved performance.

Please keep sharing your experiences!

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