A solo-transatlantic journey is no easy undertaking, but try doing it without any crew at all. A group of students from ETH Zurich in Switzerland are currently testing a fully autonomous sailboat that’s theoretically able to reach any destination on its own. At just over 13 feet LOA and 1100 pounds, the Avalon robotic sailboat will be competing against 11 other robotic sailboats this fall in The International Microtransat Challenge Transatlantic Race from Ireland to the Caribbean.
The members of team Students Sail Autonomously (SSA) began designing the boat last September and built it on their own over the winter. The first test runs are being completed on Lake Zurich, but the boat won’t see the open ocean until the transatlantic race begins. During the 3,780-nautical mile journey, SSA will be able to track Avalon’s progress, but they cannot intervene. Because no team members have sailing experience in the Caribbean, SSA is interviewing sailors who know the region backwards and forwards to better prepare the boat and the route.
The race was originally scheduled to launch from Portugal in 2008, but was postponed due to legal issues. This year, the boats are expected to launch from southwest Ireland sometime in September, though no definite date and location is set. The finish line is between 10 degrees and 25 degrees North and 60 degrees West. Before launch, each team must select a point on that line and finish within 27 nautical miles of it to win. As for a prize: only the bragging rights for designing the first boat to cross the Atlantic no-handed.