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SolarSurfer Continuation Project

(TCIII) #21

A fantastic at sea rescue by the freighter.:slight_smile:


Hi everyone,

I was looking for a continuation of SolarSurfer project with the idea of building my ‘own version’ which led me to this thread, pretty exciting! I have been following SolarCharger as well, amazing rescue and progress, it was short only 300 miles of New Zealand.

I am not a terribly experienced with mechanical things but pretty good with anything about coding, controllers, etc. Let me know if you need help and I can be involved, I would love to.

I live aboard my sailboat in San Francisco so I can also get wet (literally) if needed :slight_smile:

(Kevin) #23

@Tenedos Welcome to our little project!

Tony and I have been buying components for the hardware side and we feel pretty confident about the power generation, energy storage, hull and propulsion drives. We haven’t assembled anything yet, but we’ll post pictures when we do. Our hull is a Costco blue padleboard starting out, but we may upgrade into an Expandacraft catamaran hull.

The part we are stuck on right now is communications. We have Wi-fi working with ArduPilot’s APSync Image. From there, we’ve been trying to get 4G comms working through using OpenVPN, but have so far been unsuccessful and could use some help. After we have 4G working, we’d like to get satellite comms working with a RockBLOCK device so we can start pushing further out from shore.

Let us know if you have any good ideas. Solving the comms issue is our last hurdle to getting this in the water and operating at long ranges.


Thanks @Kevin, this is exciting stuff!

Sounds very cool. What kind of hardware do you use for the 4G comms? Do you already have an OpenVPN server? I am running one on my boat locally on a Raspberry Pi if you need one. And could you get the OpenVPN connection via WiFi already? BTW, what are you running the APSync on? (I have a bunch of Raspberry Pis and Edisons here) Sorry for asking a lot of questions :slight_smile:

I haven’t used ArduPilot or PixHawk before but if you can give me the the layout of the modules you use, I can try and see if I can create a similar setup here.

Do you coordinate the development here or is there a Slack, mail group etc?

(Kevin) #25

Here’s what our current autopilot and companion computer set-up looks like:

We have a Pixhawk 1 connected to a Raspberry Pi 3 via the TELEM2 connection. The dev’s say a USB connection from the Pixhawk to the RPi3 will work by changing the cmavnode config file, but I haven’t got that working yet. The 4G USB dongle is a Novatel 620L that is linked to my Verizon data plan, so we didn’t need to create a new one.

We have an OpenVPN sever running on an AWS CE2 instance. We can connect our ground control station computer to the server, but not the RPi as of yet.

The Wi-fi is just for local control and I wasn’t planning on using that as a connection to the internet due to its short range, but it might be useful if we create a “docking station” down the line.

And feel free to ask as many questions as you want, it will be good to have some extra help.

We’re doing coordination on a Gitter channel. https://gitter.im/ After you get signed up, let me know your username and we’ll get you in.


Thanks @kevin. I just ordered a Pixhawk. It will be coming from China so may two weeks or so, I will see what I can do with it. I have a Verizon dongle but I am an AT&T shop so don’t have a connection. But at a minimum I can try to help linking Pixhawk to the Raspberry Pi.

I also signed up to Gitter, my user id is itemir.

I have a side question, you might have an idea. I see there are 915 Mhz communication modules for Pixhawk. Any idea how they work and if the range is reasonable (for 915 Mhz, I would consider 1km pretty good)?

(Kevin) #27

Well, we can certainly try AT&T as well. Verizon just works well for us off Los Angeles and we have signal to about 5-6 miles offshore.

I added you on our Gitter channel.

Oh yeah the 915 Mhz radios are good and are pretty much the standard for the plane and copter users. I had a pair of FRD900+'s on my red USV. The downsides are they are only point to point (you need one on the receiving end as well) and can only transmit telemetry data. You would need separate hardware for video transmission or other utilities.

(Anthony White) #28

Hi Ilker, welcome!

While we’re using the 4G modem Kevin described, the eventual vehicle will use a mofi for the diversity antenna connections for wifi and 4g, letting us both create a larger wifi hotspot and receive better 4G signal.

We have an ubuntu EC2 instance running ovpn server setup with pivpn - see gitter for dropbox links to .ovpn file (invite only room for the moment.) It’s running ok, and I can connect my mac laptop and other computers to it - the issue seems to be a timeout or other error when connecting from the pi over 4G. Kevin, have you tried it with a non-4G internet connection to the pi?

Once we start to get this platform doing longer missions, there will be all sorts of fun python or other controlling scripts for pushing data, and handling various situations automatically (kelp patch impact, sampling, state change on power condition, etc,)

Kevin and I hope to have this cruising the socal coast with 4g and occasional satcom only portions by this summer!

From the testing we did the other weekend with Kevin’s survey ASV mini-kayak, I think we have a usb connection from pi to pixhawk working already (at least for pi querying pix.)

Almost all the basic parts have arrived - still need batteries and some preview ESCs, but things will start moving quickly soon!

48V power supply for surface and subsurface IP cameras (remote video feed via seperate p2p chinese sketch system), 12V, and 5V, with a 40A charge controller - lets us take up to 5 panels in series, the most our large costco standup board will handle.

I’m thinking propulsion pods using M200s with large 2 blade 3D printed and epoxied props, ducted with some acrylic on the outer side to prevent passing kelp from getting sucked in / wound up. These will be in about the middle of the board, with the 36" long, 4" tube housing our batteries and subsurface camera at the rear. This lets the edge of the camera set to hopefully catch the props in view, so we can tell if we’re fouled remotely.

The panels only slightly overhang the board as shown - I’m working on figuring out a rail system that will not only support these outisde edges but extend to the nose and stern in such a way to hold kelp away from the hull. When hitting some of the big matts that are common out here I’m hoping to arrange that the kelp is held by the point at the bow, rather than swept up and under the rocker of the board. Maybe a script on the pi will notice when progress towards a waypoint isn’t being made and perform some reversing, automatic re-routing mission plan.



Awesome. I am now on Gitter. I will coordinate with you there for development.

On the side, I am also trying to build a ‘surf board based USV’ myself, though much simpler than what you have here. I have a lot to learn from you on the hardware side :slight_smile: I am more of the software type! :wink:

(Kevin) #30

@anthony-white Thanks for the detailed update! That’s been a few months in the making.

(Ryan) #31

Hey guys. Great work so far! Have you made any progress with getting satcoms working? It looked like the folks working on ardupilot had made some progress but I don’t think its finished yet.

Also, I would like to donate my cnc router cutting services to you. If you need anything cut for this project please let me know.


(Kevin) #32

Hi Ryan! Thanks for the offer! Tony has an idea for the thruster guards that will need to be cut out from HDPE. I’m not sure if he has anyone to do that yet.

The Satcomms are coming, but there are some challenges. I’m working with the developer from Envirover to get a RockBLOCK working with a Pixhawk running ArduRover. I managed to send too many messages at once and overloaded my RockBLOCK PCB, so I have a replacement coming in from the UK. Once it is all up and running, I’ll try it on my red USV before we transition it over.

(Kaos) #33

Hi guys, great work on the build. This is a future project for me so will be watching the progress and especially the implementation of sat comms.:slight_smile:

(Kaos) #34

Just looked at envirover. I’m also working on using the deeper sonar as floating GPS reference for br2.
Is it possible to follow u guys on gitter?

(Kevin) #35

You should be able to jump in this room: https://gitter.im/SPLRadioRoom/Lobby He and I have another chat going, but I’ll see if he wants to move there or somewhere else.

(Kevin) #36

It looks like Epsom College has given up on a sail powered vehicle and shifted over to a solar propulsion drive. I haven’t seen any pictures of the underside yet.


(Ryan) #37

Hey Kevin how are things coming along with this project? Does the Envirover satcoms work now?

(Kevin) #38

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for your interest! The SS2 project is a bit on a hiatus until Tony and I can devote some time to it again. Yes, the satcomms did work, but there’s a new hardware issue. Here’s what we need to overcome before we feel like we can progress:

  1. We need to use Li-Ion batteries. The energy density is much greater than lead-acid. The problem is one of balancing the cells while charging. I was thinking of asking the Sea Charger guy how he did it.

  2. Intel has discontinued the Arduino 101 that we had been using as a message broker between the Pixhawk and the RockBLOCK modem. Envirover is working on converting his program to run on a Raspberry Pi.

Here’s what we had/have working:

  1. I’m running ArduSub 3.5.1 with the Simple Frame-3 configuration and omitting the vertical thruster. I like the UI improvements and it works well with a joystick. The sensors are geared towards the marine environment too over ArduRover.
  2. Wi-Fi: I’m using a dedicated RPi3 with these instructions: https://www.ardusub.com/miscellaneous/wireless-topside.html. Connection via the Pixhawk’s USB port (Serial 0)
  3. 4G: Using this: https://www.skydrone.aero/collections/frontpage/products/sky-drone-fpv Connected to Serial 2.
  4. SATCOM: Using Envirover method at the moment, will switch to RPi with modem eventually. Connected to Serial 1.

Have a read through Envirover’s posts on the ArduPilot Forums:

@rdn11180 What’s your interest? What are you thinking of building?

(Ryan) #39

Hey Kevin,

It sounds like you guys are pretty far along with the SS2 project. I am in early stages of a similar project. I would like submit an entry Microtransat Challenge either in 2018 or 2019 depending on how things go. My career has been focused around ardupilot/Pixhawk and would really love to use that for navigation. Satcom is the last key to the puzzle.

My design is very similar to what the SeaCharger guys came up with. It seems like the combination they used worked really well.

I also plan to use Li-ion batteries and have looked around for balancing boards. It looks like they are using something like this: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/5-6-or-7-cells-20A-w-balancing-Li-ion-Lithium-18650-Battery-In-Out-Protection-/111091669495
I am still looking for a higher quality balancer.

So far I have mocked up most of the driveline/battery pod and main boat structure. I am still waiting on a few more things to come in before I can start actually building the thing.

Thanks for the links and sharing the info you have. It is super helpful!


(Kevin) #40

Sounds great! Please let us know if you do a build blog, I like following everyone’s progress on these types of builds.

We’ve talked about the SeaCharger a bit, and although a very good an efficient design, there has been some talk that he “got lucky” and didn’t get all fouled up. He has a lot of surfaces that could have caught on a lot of kelp, and that’s what looks like what happened as he approached NZ. See the pictures when it was retrieved.

If I was to redo the hull, I’m thinking something like a J-Class sailboat hull would be better. Problem is, there aren’t many hulls available in the size we would need.

Best of luck! Hopefully you win that prize! All the wind powered craft have failed and I’m thinking the way to go is through solar power.