GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

June 10, 2013

Fishtown Local: The sailing robots are here!

This is the day! They are finally here and ready to change the world.

They are Sailbots. Streaming toward Gloucester all through the weekend from colleges and schools across the land are the sailing robots coming to do battle in the outer harbor.

Sounds like a kids’ book, doesn’t it? The robots on their way to compete on the water?

Of course, there are a few humans attached to the sailbots: 17 robotics teams from academia are now here. Our own Gloucester effort is run by the enigmatic Coach L — aka Kurt Lichtenwald — the physics and robotics master at GHS.

A visit to the infamous Room 3404 on the top floor of the west wing of the high school reminds one of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab from the original movie. Gizmo’s and parts dangling from the ceiling, resistors, capacitors, gears, accelerometers, wires and twangy things sprawled all over the counters, walls and every surface packed with designs and complicated constructions — what a place!

But at the center of the mayhem lie the twin gems of the program, the two Sailbots, rigged, programmed and almost ready to make history.

The last touches are still left to perfect, the last programming flourishes to add.

The simpler of the two Sailbots is the 1-meter monohull, the more traditional looking boat with a regular main and jib —mostly similar to typical race boats out on the regular race courses. That boat has been water tested in the canal and showed incredible versatility and buoyancy. She could get knocked down by a heavy gust, but she just squirreled up higher and higher into the wind and kept driving — which in sail racing, is a really good trait. This boat is also a very good “tacker,” meaning it changes direction easily.

The other boat is also 1 meter, but is a trimaran, a three-hull design, an orangey-red rocketship multihull that is the teams’ wildcard. A bunch of the college teams will have 2-meter boats, so we need our secret weapon to zing them.

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