Toy boat to attempt world's first unmanned Atlantic crossing

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SUNNINGHILL, England — A retired NATO scientist is trying to make history by engineering the first unmanned vessel to cross the Atlantic — and to keep himself from taking the task too seriously, he's made the vessel a toy boat with a Snoopy figure attached.

Robin Lovelock, 65, has spent four years developing the boat, which is 4 feet long, 30 pounds and cost about $700 to make from parts Lovelock found online. Although it will be powered by wind, it will be navigated by a solar-powered computer and GPS system that includes a tracker so Lovelock can keep up on the boat's movement.

The movement isn't expected to be fast: at 3 mph, the boat should arrive near Plymouth, Mass., in about half a year, according to the Daily Telegraph.

If Lovelock succeeds, he will be the first person to successfully send an unmanned vessel across the Atlantic Ocean, and he'll win a contest started in 2010 to find someone to complete such a feat.

Snoopy Sloop specs:
  • Team Name: Team Joker
  • Location: Ascot, Berkshire, United Kingdom
  • Boat Names: Snoopy Sloop
  • Length: 1.2m
  • Weight: 14kg
  • Beam: 0.28m
  • Draft: 0.3m
  • Hull type: Marblehead fibre glass hull, foam filled.
  • Rig Design: A classical bermudan rig based on the International One Metre (IOM) #3 storm rig.
  • Power source: Solar panels, 5v NiMh battery
  • Actuators: Standard radio control servos.
  • Communications: SPOT Satellite Messenger.
  • Computers: Picaxe

The Microtransat Challenge was started to "stimulate the development of autonomous sailing boats through friendly competition," according to the competition website, and Lovelock wants to keep it friendly. His team name is "Joker," and he attached a Snoopy toy to the boat "as a wind up to academics who take it too seriously."

Lovelock admits his boat is not as high-tech as the three others that have attempted the voyage since 2010, but he believes it can survive the journey. It has traveled 5,500 miles on a nearby lake in the past seven months, doing better than any of the previous seven Lovelock has developed.

He told the Telegraph he isn't worried about the boat encountering a larger vessel, and he thinks it is small enough "it should just be able to ride the swell" of waves.

"There are certain things to worry about and others not to," he said. "The likely problems will be with reliability, and how the navigation system works with the tides."

Three other boats are registered to compete in the 2012 version of the race, according to Microtransat: three from France, and one from Norway. The competition is open to anyone who wishes to participate.


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Stephanie Grimes


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