Network of autonomous small cargo vessels ("Matternet" on the water)

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Matternetaqua, May 8, 2012.

  1. Matternetaqua
    Joined: May 2012
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    Matternetaqua Junior Member

    Some context.

    Some of you may have heard of Matternet - the internet of material goods. The idea is to create a network of small solar-energy based UAVs to transport goods, mainly in the developing world. This way you can skip building roads.

    In several discussions on Matternet, the idea of doing the same with boats, was brought up.

    Now, being a conservationist, I think Matternet holds a lot of potential indeed. Especially in regions with a lot of primary forest. As we conserve this forest and its ecosystem services, we conserve a lot of value.

    The region where I work would, however, benefit more of a network of small, autonomous boats. Not for conservation, but for socio-economic reasons.

    With your help, I'd like to do some of the basic economics. As I'm not a boat builder, I would really appreciate your input.

    Here are some of the elements that we'd have to take into account:

    -the boats would have to work autonomously, on batteries, and guide themselves through rather difficult rivers (with lots of obstacles in the form of sand banks, pieces of wood, other vessels....)
    -have an autonomy of around 100km, after which they will switch batteries (in case they don't carry their own solar cells to charge the batts) or dock to a base station
    -have a payload capacity of not more than 3 to 5 tons
    -beat local transportation costs, which are about 10 US$/ton for 100km
    -speed is of lesser importance, as we're talking mainly about non-perishable goods

    Could a system based on photovoltaics, batteries, GPS, arduino software, obstacle avoidance systems, electric motors, and a fiberglass/aluminium hull work? I know this is a very broad question, and I'm not trying to be lazy... But you guys have much more understanding of boatbuilding, efficiency, economics and feasibility.

    In case I haven't shown enough elements, I'm here to add details.

    Being a rather successful project writer, I could perhaps attract some funding for a pilot project.
  2. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    In short, no - because your solar powered boat will not work as described and certainly not for less than $10/ton for 100km.

    The boats, if working at all, would be severely underpowered. They could charge up via solar panel, then drop anchor and stop for several days, then pull anchor and go for a few hours, then stop and charge for several days, etc...

    Also, how about conservation of the sea? You probably won't find a lot of people here who want to see the oceans littered with a lot of autonomous navigation hazards.

    Technically it will not work as suggested, but I'm also not a big fan of industrializing the ocean. Keep that junk on land.
  3. Matternetaqua
    Joined: May 2012
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    Matternetaqua Junior Member

    Mm, we'd be talking more about well coordinated "swarms" of boats. And they'd be powered by renewable energy. Which is why they're helping to protect the sea (as you know, climate change is the single biggest threat to marine biodiversity). But apparently you prefer those good old megalomaniacal diesel monsters to bring you China-made junk?

    The idea - for the river trajectories - would be to switch batteries. Not so much to have the boats work on direct solar power.
  4. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    That's a pretty crappy response to a post I made that is completely grounded in reality. Look up the specs, performance and build cost of Planet Solar then compare it to your project. LEARN something before you get all testy.ûranor_PlanetSolar

    You don't even have the slightest clue what you are talking about, technically. If you did, you wouldn't be on here asking such a basic question. There's nothing wrong with coming here and asking basic questions, but to snap at someone who just gave you the answer is absurd.

    And... what makes you think I buy any Chinese junk or prefer diesel engines? My boats are all powered by wind, FYI.

    Your idea... is bad. Look up "conservation of energy" and "energy density of batteries" while you're at it.

    Filling the sea up with swarms of "coordinated" navigation hazards will not result in conservation of any type. You are just taking a land problem (goods made on land, goods needed by those on land, good that should be transported over that same land) and pushing it off into the sea. That's not conservation, that's "out of sight, out of mind."

    Why don't you make roads or rails and use autonomous locomotives or trucks? They could run on solar or batteries as well, and in the case of a train, would be as efficient as a boat (or more efficient, assuming these are small boats).

    This is no different than "offshore" wind farms being proposed by people who don't want the nasty, ugly industrial wind farms on land. It's not conservation. It's "out of sight out of mind." Keep your land based problems on land.
  5. Matternetaqua
    Joined: May 2012
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    Matternetaqua Junior Member

    I'm sorry, but I didn't see any "response" really.

    Here's what you said:

    Strong response.

    Why would the boat not work?

    Any data to back that up?

    After having said strictly nothing, you dropped the subject and began something about junk in the sea (being: diesel powered catamarans for some snob, no doubt, without any service to mankind).

    I don't see why I should compare a Rolls Royce to a VW buggy. Both are cars, but that's about it.

    I look more at useful examples, like lonelybot.

    I'm sorry, but I think you have a rather nervy personality. Have I insulted you in any way? Do you know me?

    My question is entirely valid, and the idea is shared by some of the world's leading futurists (like Arturo Pelayo, from aria-logistics).

    But clearly, you're not really a forward-looking person.

    We were talking about rivers. Not the sea. Stick to the topic, or leave it, please.

    We're looking at networking autonomous vehicles operated in water. The network/fleet idea is what it's about. Swarm computing. Whether on land, in the air, or on water - it's all the same principles.

    Clearly, you haven't understood a thing of the concept. It's all about avoiding new material infrastructures. Haven't you grasped that basic idea?

    Introduce yourself by reading up a bit. It will help you:

    Ok. May I tell you that you have a bit of a fuzzy mind? A bit schizo? You jump from topic to topic, you draw comparisons where there are none, etc...

    Take a breeze, please.

    Really, seldom have I seen such a weak way of discussing a topic. What's frustrating about it? So much negative energy is scary.
  6. sabahcat
    Joined: Dec 2008
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    sabahcat Senior Member

    ^^^ How old are you, 3?
  7. Richard Woods
    Joined: Jun 2006
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    Richard Woods Woods Designs

    I support Catbuilder here.

    Please find out more about boat propulsion before going any further

    As you know, lots of barges operate in the low countries. I suggest you go down to your local dock and ask the bargees their opinions. Find out how much power they need. Remember that boats are very good at moving very large loads very slowly. But not good at moving them fast

    Also check out electric "trolling" motors and see how much power they need just to move a kayak or small fishing boat

    or try the Parsun website as they make "large" ie 4-5hp electric outboards.

    Also consider that a normal delivery van/truck can stop anywhere by the side of the road. You cannot usually do that on a river (maybe you can on a canal)

    I think you are really saying "buy used vehicles" (vehicles in its broadest sense)

    Please be more precise about the locations you are thinking of. Where do you work? presumably not Brussels

    Isn't it better to grow/make things locally and thus reduce transport in general. eg the 100 mile diet??

    Unmanned vessels are unlikely to work because, although a car can reverse itself into a space without help and google has a license for a driverless car

    when you park a car it stops. You need to tie up a boat. And that needs crew or dockside workers

    Richard Woods of Woods Designs
  8. daiquiri
    Joined: May 2004
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    Location: Italy (Garda Lake) and Croatia (Istria)

    daiquiri Engineering and Design

    Matternetaqua, one observation from me, if you dont mind.
    I'd like to know where does the $10/ton criterion comes from? I remember I've read somewhere that shipping by sea of large quantities of goods over long distances comes at a price of around 25-35 $/ton (someone in the business correct me if necessary, please), and it is being done with some of the most cost-efficient ships we can currently get. So for river transportation these numbers must be much higher - due to shorter routes, smaller ships/engines and smaller quantities of transportable goods.
    So how do you think that autonomous electric vessels (which will be very expensive even just to build and maintain) could possibly lower shipping costs by such a huge amount, when every single cost-related variable indicates the opposite?
  9. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    Look, Matternetaqua. Other than river vs. ocean, I understood the concept inside and out, from how to develop the software you need, to how solar electric systems work in real life, how batteries work and which are best for your project, how to build your boats and what modes of transportation are most efficient.

    These are the things you need to learn. Start reading. I'm not going to provide data to back up what I am saying. I already read it all. It's your turn to crack a book or at least breeze through Wikipedia a bit.

    To call me "not forward thinking" is more than laughable. It's all I ever do! ha ha ha

    Listen, I apologize for the confrontational post.

    I just get upset when people talk about putting land based problems into the sea "the sea... she can take it" has gone on long enough.

    It happens with toxic waste, it happens with sewage, it happens with industry (wind power) and now we are looking at an idea for filling bodies of water with aquatic robots. Enough already. So you want to fill up harbors and rivers. Same thing.

    I'm a fierce defender of the sea (or rivers) and I make no apology for that.

    Aside from personal feelings against ruining waterways with industrial products, the solar aspect is no good. You won't move any cargo with a solar/electric boat. A solar/electric boat, carefully designed and used at 5 knots can barely move itself, nevermind loading heavy cargo and trying to move large displacements.

    One little breeze comes up and your boat will go off course and sink.

    You want data? Look some up.

    The money aspect is also no good. You cannot even dream of reaching $10/ton. I wasn't kidding about the trains. They are a far more efficient way of moving cargo. If you really want efficiency and conservation, don't use the products that need shipping and produce the products locally. That is conservation. Building a system of boats is not conservation in the least.

    The most efficient way to move your good (if not making them locally) would be to cut a path through the trees and build a hollow, airtight tube. Use a vacuum pump and remove all of the air. Now run a train inside that tube. If you find the tube expensive, run a very small, but long train. You can run at incredible speed and there is little to no resistance, as most of it comes from air resistance. You have to do better than your original post to both create something new and to practice conservation.

    What are proposing is wasteful. It's not conservation. (Nor will it work)

    Did you even look up anything I suggested? If you read through all of it, you'll realize this plan is not going to work anyway, from a technical standpoint.

    Lastly, if there is any technical person at a VC or angel investor group you are going to talk to, they will shoot you down in half a second because you don't have a technical person on your management team. Yeah... I also know about funding.

    Lastly, if I saw lonleybot at sea, I'd be sure to sink it so it wouldn't post a navigation hazard to others. Having a small, unmanned, autonomous boat wandering around at sea with no way to see it puts everyone's lives at risk.
  10. masalai
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    masalai masalai

    A nice dream, but that is the end of it... Far too many complications and technical problems to solve (GPS in open oceans is often less precise than 10M - your "bot" hits and damages a jetty - YOU PAY (or maybe your insurance but then you are out of business)... - - - An unmanned vessel carrying 1000 to 5000kg of cargo ? - - I too would sink it as being a hazard to navigation...

    In the Melanesian Islands, where there are many small remote villages, small, (less than 40ft), shallow draft, (less than 3 ft), boats capable of being manned and acquired by some of those villagers to carry villager produce MAY find a useful place... Better be good as the "banana boats" with 40hp outboards are very cheap and popular and some are being converted to take a small sail, - - - - made from cheap plastic "tarpaulins"...
  11. messabout
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    messabout Senior Member

    Matternetaqua: Do not be offended by the tone of the replies that you have gotten. At this time your proposition is science fiction. The respondents here know what they are talking about. Granted that cell phones were science fiction 50 years ago. By implication, your idea might be practical at some time in the future, but not now.

    In addition to the objections already aired, I have another one that has little to do with technology. It is this; We do not want or need a fleet of cargo boats or any other type of cargo mover that can be operated without human attention.

    The world is overpopulated. Far too many of the worlds people are unemployed and have little hope of ever getting a paying job. Automated anythings would make the problem worse than it already is. Very well, create a fleet or fleets of small boats to carry people or cargo. Propel them with solar, fuel engines, sail, or human muscle. In every case let the boats be operated and tended by human beings. When, if ever, the global population declines to one fifth of what it is a present, we can come back to the autonomous concept.

    Your current idea is not practical but that does not imply that you need to stop thinking. The world has always needed visionaries, so keep on keeping on.
  12. masalai
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    masalai masalai

    Hi messabout,
    You prompted a brain fart of constructive thought - A production line making those 3D printers capable of churning out widgets from a cad drawing of a solid... They are around, but only as "curios" at the present... Manufacturing and selling those as turnkey systems will get hundreds and thousands of potential entrepreneurs into independent productive workforces located where the widget is needed and made to order in minutes...
  13. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    Masalai, there is an interesting new invention out of MIT that takes it one step further.

    They have created rudimentary, small "building blocks", capable of attaching to each other. They are simple, small robots able to work together to form objects. Basically, programmable sand!

    You just program the object you want them to create and it appears.

    The can also do this autonomously acting as "smart sand" which can feel and then recreate objects. Of course, they are not miniaturized down to sand scale yet, but they probably will be soon. Check it out:

    Also, in the spirit of fun, check out the building they turned into a tetris game...
    1 person likes this.
  14. hoytedow
    Joined: Sep 2009
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    hoytedow Carbon Based Life Form

    Most batteries get charged not by solar but by coal fired thermal power plants.

  15. masalai
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: cruising, Australia

    masalai masalai

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