GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 8, 2012

City lands global robotic sailing event

Robot sailboats are coming to Gloucester.

Next, summer Sailbot, an international competition for autonomous and radio controlled sailboats, will run in Gloucester Harbor.

The event, hosted by the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, is already on the schedule, will run next June 9-13 — and could bring teams from around 15 colleges, said Dr. Andrew Bennett, a professor of mechanical engineering who specializes in robotics and systems at Olin.

The Sailbot races are primarily an undergraduate project, through teams from high schools can take part as well. The races, he said, get students interested and provide some hands-on experience in naval architecture, Bennett said. They also help advance modern naval architecture as well, he added.

Autonomous sailboats aren’t like other autonomous vessels, Bennett said.

“You have to deal with the elements,” he said, “how do you get a robot to sail?”

Bennett gave a presentation to city, Olin and Endicott College officials last week at Cruiseport Gloucester, and he brought along the roughly five-foot long black and green Blackbody Radiation — the robotic sailboat with which Olin placed second in the 2012 Sailbot races off Vancouver, British Colombia.

Those sailboats, each about six feet long, won’t be the first unmanned boats in Gloucester Harbor. John Hays Hammond, the inventor who built Hammond Castle, piloted remote-controlled ghost ships in the harbor around 100 years ago.

Olin’s connections with Ocean Alliance, who owns and is renovating the old Tarr and Wonson Paint Factory on Rocky Neck, brought the race to Gloucester. Alliance CEO Iain Kerr said Olin’s working on several robotics projects for the research non-profit.

“These types of programs are what we need to bring to Gloucester,” Kerr said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.

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