Students want to map the sea using solar power

Two students at Chalmers have built an autonomous boat powered by solar cells. The goal is to cross the Kattegat sea to Denmark, and explore the possibilities of automatic vehicles at sea.
Niels Jonsson and Josef Vernersson are students in their last year of the Mechatronics Bachelor of Engineering programme at Chalmers, and as their degree project​ they have built an autonomous solar powered boat. Their aim is for the boat to cross the sea to Denmark, completely self-propelled and using only solar power.

Niels and Josef built the boat in cooperation with the company Infotiv, and the purpose of the project is to explore the possibilities of using autonomous vehicles on the ocean. The also wanted to see what opportunities and risks come with using solar cells as an energy source at sea.

“The use of autonomous vehicles at sea is still very new. Currently, it is difficult to extract continuous manual data at sea and the technology is very expensive. If you had a fleet of autonomous boats instead, it would be much cheaper and more efficient,” says Niels Jonsson.

The boat is programmed to go between GPS coordinates by itself, and the students will be able to follow the boat using the GSM network on their phones. The trip is planned to start south of Gothenburg and from there, the boat will be released and travel autonomously to Skagen in Denmark.

“The journey across the Kattegat is an opportunity for us to measure data and get an overview of the risk areas with this type of vehicle. An autonomous boat of this size could, for example, be suitable for use inshore, to collect data and measure water depth,” says Josef Vernersson.

Since the boat is powered by solar cells, it must be as energy-efficient as possible and during the project, the choice of energy-efficient electricity systems and solar cells, among other things, has been important. In the near future, the hope from the project is that the boat will contribute to a platform for future projects in the development of vehicles powered by solar cells and automation on lakes and at sea.


Text: Sophia Kristensson
Photo : Johan Bodell and Niels Jonsson.

Published: Tue 25 Jun 2019. Modified: Tue 09 Jul 2019