Autonomous Toy-Boat GPS and R/C Controlled

jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
edited January 2012 in Robotics Vote Up0Vote Down

I’m not sure any project is ever truly complete. So many more things to think about, such as cameras, two-way-radio-communications and perhaps even game-playing such as GPS racing or battle-boats! Some hobbyist actually use real gas-powered BB-shooters to sink each other! Or how about being the first solar powered autonomous toy-boat around the world? (That is if something doesn’t eat-it, shoot-it, or steal it?) The list is endless.

Satellite communication and inexpensive electronic gadgets makes this all possible.

Anyway, this is my first attempt at using a programmable controller. I'm aware that I'm not the first person to make a GPS guided boat and I thank those who emailed me to clarify that. It took me a while, but I settled on the Parallax stuff as I could read about it before I purchased anything. I was very much impressed with the downloadable manuals and free software. I soon purchased a starter kit, and I was hooked! I now own at least one of every 24 pin BS2 module sold. However, I was adamant on making this project work on a plain ole’ BS2, and all I can say is, “I can’t believe it ate the whole thing!”

The platform is a cheapo' Toys ‘R’ Us special that was 50% off because the steering wheel was broken off. (I simply glued it back on.) It was the biggest thing I could find that didn’t cost an arm and a leg or take a year to build. (30” inches long is pretty good.) It came with a very nice Mabuchi motor, runs on 9.6V rechargeable batteries, and is rather well built. mechanically. The original radio and servo system was shabby. The control was either full-throttle forward or reverse, also the rudder was either full-left or full-right. It behaved poorly, as far as R/C control was concerned. I will say it did work right out of the box and is beautifully detailed.

But now she is not only sexy, she is smart too! And very well behaved....

First automatic waypoint turn video:¤t=Firstwaypointmov.flv?t=1166404748

Switch to manual control video:¤t=SwitchtoManualmov.flv

The radio problem was solved by a company named Cold-Fusion 4 channel 300+ meter wireless transmitter and receiver that uses only 5 volts and is perfect for the basic stamp! And for less than $20 on EBay. (You don’t know how many times I plugged Basic Stamp into the EBay search engine and simply ignored it.) It was right in front of me the whole time, and if I have an opportunity to recommend something, this would be it. And of course, Parallax components all the way!


Just about everything has GPS in it today. Not just automobile navigation and hikers, but in just about all industries, cell-phones, bicyclist, aviation, marine, you name it. I had the GPS unit in the closet for about 10 years now. I would use it with TOPO software when I mountain-hiked. Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I no longer climb. So when I was deciding what to do with my old unit, I figured why not me? I always knew it had output potential and was very powerful as it had waypoint capabilities.- I use the GPRMB and GPRMC NEMA strings to get the current heading, and the heading to waypoint. This unit will allow 500 waypoints, and as each one is reached, it automatically switches to the next! Cool eh? So, you can simply find out which way your actually pointing, and then steer toward the next waypoint


Simple right? Right! Ok, just a few little bumps in the road…..Like it only works when your moving. (Good for a week’s worth of wasted time and frustration.) The NEMA string is ASCII code so it takes a bit of manipulation to turn it into something you can calculate with. Not to mention nearly burning the house down a few times and the lady who called 911 saying I was stuck on an ice-berg in a canoe. (She actually did call them.) Thankfully the cops were cool. Canoeing on a river in the 3rd week of December. can you imagine that! But it has been warm here in the North-East this year. No real ice yet.

However, I have indeed reached the end of the boating season and its time to hit Toy store for a new platform.

I originally planned to have a radio-over-ride system in case of emergency. I wanted the boat to go ‘GPS’ on command, and back to ‘Manual’ again. The stamp can recognize when two buttons are pressed at the same time. So technically it is 16 channel radio if you look at it from a binary point of view. Agreed, not the best way to go, but it does work! I also wanted it to be as unsinkable as possible snd who would ever think there is a use for those new fangled Cello-cushions you get as packing material? Motor control was also a consideration and the forum advice was also invaluable there also. (At the time, I wasn’t adding a load factor.) Most importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that it could be done on a BS2.

Switch to manual over ride video:¤t=CometoPAPAmov.flv?t=1166405904


Yikes! Video:¤t=Yikesmov.flv?t=1166405754

Well thanks everyone, enjoy the pics and the videos! I had a blast leisurely driving the boat manually up the river, and then switching to GPS mode when I reached the open pond. Today I traveled by van to a larger lake, and all went great! I can’t wait to try again tomorrow. I knew there was a good reason to keep the old-van. I told the wife we would need it to get stuff at the lumber store to fix up the house….wink

Up the River video:¤t=UpRivershortmov.flv

All I can say is I learned a boat-load!


Servo motor control video:¤t=QuickandDirtymov.flv?t=1166405259

Longer version of servo motor control¤t=3HourTourmov.flv?t=1166407187

Post Edited (jhoyoza) : 2/5/2007 1:12:32 PM GMT
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  • 21 Comments sorted by Date Added Votes
  • stamptrolstamptrol Posts: 1,731
    edited December 2006 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Complex project, well done!

    Now, if you could get the model to tow the canoe..................!


    Tom Sisk
    Tom Sisk
    Sisk Consulting Inc.
  • HenrymouHenrymou Posts: 128
    edited January 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    That is so sweet1 BS2SX's rule man! best of luck to ya!
  • lboucherlboucher Posts: 139
    edited January 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Nicely done man, So do you have any plans to try and go around the world??? I would love to try. That is a really cool idea for a project.
  • WarrlokWarrlok Posts: 77
    edited January 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    hahaha this is the reason i got starterd in robotics ,,,,
    i built airboat on a small surf board to take my fishing line out to where the "big ones " are. it was r/c and worked great but it was so fast and had a lawnmower battery i was scared it was gonna get away from me (lake gaston is a good size lake) i wanted to have gps bring it back ,hmmm how am i gonna get gps to to control
    my boat and here we are 6 months later ,,,ive got side tracked by the bipeds and hexes might be time to finish that boatbot...
    good job !!!!
    crustcrawler is going to offering underwater video cameras soon and i got a 800mw a/v transmitter from this guy
    and if you got the 2.4ghz and the 900 mhz and rigged them on a double pan and tilt for an above and bellow spit view what could be sweeter!!!

    Problems are the "roads" of life,
    solutions are only "onramps" to the next problem

    ············································· "Brad Smith"
  • jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
    edited January 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down

    However, as mentioned above I’m not the first to do this.

    Check out these links:

    I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve and add new bells and whistles. A wireless camera is definitely on the agenda. An underwater camera in tow is also a consideration and split-image would be awesome. I would like to add bait and hook and try to actually go fishing. (Probably going to need a kick-butt gas-powered-motor and prop for that one. - I also wonder if it is legal to fish that way?) Two-way communication would be nice to help locate the boat if lost, or to simply change parameters on the fly. I’m also thinking of hooking up an apparatus tied to a potentiometer to help me deal with the wind issues. So many issues, so many challenges!

    As far as going around the world….hmmm…that’s a tall order. Just so many hazards and unforeseens. I think one of the major issues would be power requirements. If the ocean was always calm and the sun was always shinning solar-power would probably work. But what’s the chance of that? The boat would have to be much larger. My ‘peanut’ would have little chance of overcoming ocean wind, currents, and waves. I have thought about it however, and satellite telephone communication is now possible in much of the worlds oceans. Perhaps one could dial-up via satellite from a home computer, see what is going on with an onboard web-cam. Adjust heading, avoid hazards, and figure out exactly where its at? At that point, I think a laptop would be necessary along with programmable controllers.

    I still think something or someone would try to eat it, or shoot it, or steal it if they saw it. (A gun-boat captain would have a field day.) If it is possible for a cargo-ship to run it over, it would probably happen to me. And what about fishing nets?

    Now a stealthy submarine type boat that could evade capture and calmly wait out the storm or dangers a few fathoms under the water may be the way to go. I have visited many hobby-submarine web-sites and the complexity of it all is mind boggling. If an eccentric billionaire was willing to offer a generous prize for such a feat, it would make it much more attractive. For right now though, I don’t think I could pull it off nor do I have the resources to do so. ‘Cheapo-plastic would have to be replaced with stainless-steel and I don’t have a metal-machine-shop at my disposal. Someone once told me that it is easier to build a craft to survive in outer-space space than build one capable of operating at ocean depths?

    But I can dream can’t I?

    As far as getting a fishing-line apparatus to return home perhaps you could use an electronic compass if you have plenty of beach to find where it lands. I would sometimes pay my 11 yr old daughter $5 plus lunch at McDonald’s ( She drives a hard bargain) to watch the boat with binoculars and report to me on a cell-phone where it was as I drove to the other side of the lake during my initial testing phases.¤t=5orelse.flv

    The compass module Parallax offers did work well, and it was my original intent to use it for navigation purposes. I found the downfall to be that it requires extensive calibration before using it, it doesn’t like electric motors or metal, and must be kept level. However the accuracy is not bad and would definitely work well for your application if you were to package it properly, keep it high and dry, and figure out a weighted gimbals to keep it level.

    Check this out:

    Or you can use a GPS unit and do some real hunting for the big-ones!

    BTW: is a decent web site thanks! Sort of creepy actually. (Imagine the day when these robots are taught to build more just like themselves. Yikes!)

    Ok, thanks to all!

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  • HenrymouHenrymou Posts: 128
    edited January 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    beter than anythin' I ever built!
  • jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
    edited April 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down

    Summer has returned. hop.gif Time to add more bells and whistles!

    Underwater, and above water cameras, torpedoes, and other gadgets! Perhaps upgrade to a speed-demon and larger scale! (Some boats actually have dual two-stroke 50cc gasoline engines and nearly 7' long!) And how about remote fishing? How about practical scientific and environmental applications like recording depth data for pond and lake surveys?

    Check out:

    Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated!


  • Mr. RichardMr. Richard Posts: 51
    edited April 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    How about a rescue boat?

    Boat A sends a signal to boat B. Boat B drives to boat A, picks it up and returns to a home base?·If you only want to have one boat, have the boat find a ball in the water and return it.

    Magic Smoke Theory of Electronics –
    Inside every electronic part there is magic smoke.
    The magic smoke is what makes everything work.
    If you release the magic smoke, the part stops working!
  • sailman58sailman58 Posts: 162
    edited April 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    There are people who operate r/c submarines that actually dive and surface on command. I have thought that one of those would be a natural for microcomputer control. The problems are that even the r/c versions are in the high three figure range to build, and the need to find space in the water tight environment for the additional conponents.

  • swriderswrider Posts: 16
    edited April 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    I love your boat project, it is very encouraging to know it is not too hard to interface my Etrex to a stamp. I will definitely be trying a boat project this year but will probably go the 'wind' powered route, where I tell the stamp or propeller·the boundries of the sailing area and a set of waypoints. I'll need some extra sensors for wind direction,·wind speed ..... and maybe a·solar panel to extend the range.

  • jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
    edited April 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Thanks! Great ideas!

    The problem with capturing something, Mr. Richard, is my boat is just to small and GPS is not that accurate. On my best day, I have achieved accuracy of less than a meter. On my worst day I have been off as much as 60 feet! Upgrading to WASS enabled GPS has improved accuracy tremendously. (I would love to ix-na the rescue canoe.) However, despite improving to within a few meters, 95% of the time, I don‘t think I could actually find something. I suppose once you get close enough to an object, you could use some other type of sensor to zero in, such as Ultra-sonics, Bobot-CMUcam, color detectors, infra-red, or switch to manual control perhaps. I do know stability is an issue on the open water, and may affect using advanced sensors? I haven’t tried any yet. Right now, I have been fooling around with a wireless nanny-cam and I actually get a bit sea-sick trying to look at something close-up when traveling very slowly or at full stop. A weighted gimbals may be in order to stabilize things. The camera range is only about 150 feet and I can see that far anyway…lol. It does work great however, and well worth the $30 including shipping on EBay. I suppose I could switch to manual-mode and grab something, but I certainly need a bigger boat and something with more power to tow, carry things, and generally add heavier stuff like hooks and robot arms.

    (I'm about to experiment using a piece of aluminum strategically placed near the transmitter antenna to perhaps help make the signal directional and improve the range of my wireless camera. Ever notice those large antennas off the highway that are often 3 in a row? Apparently it is to help make the signal more directional thus more powerful. If you hold a wire-wound AM radio antenna and slowly spin it, the signal in noticeably stronger when your aiming at the station. Try it, it actually works. Now that’s a 50,000 watt transmitter miles away, I’m not sure how well it would work on low-powered transmitters at close-range? It would require a stepping motor or something to help keep the antenna array pointing at my receiver anyway and it could get quite complicated and heavy. But GPS and Basic-Stamps make it all possible.)

    I’m attending a R/C boat show the 14th and 15th of April, 2007 in Falmouth, Ma. to look at some options. These are R/C people and they build all types of stuff from 7’ long 75 MPH speed-boats, giant-scaled sailboats, submarines, awesome scaled reproductions, tug-boats and of course my favorite BATTLE-BOATS! they actually use air powered BB-machine guns and torpedoes! I hope to find a bigger boat with more power as I have pretty much reached my weight-limit, and I’m certainly underpowered as far as what is available now days. I can wait to see the museum and see the demonstrations they have in store. I do think I will stay with electric-motors as it is a bit more neighborly. Perhaps I can help spread the word about Parallax stuff?

    Sailman58 The cost of a submarine is becoming move affordable and they have some great kits and even inexpensive ones you might be able to modify at Wally-World (Wal-Mart) And the info on building your own is readily available and shouldn‘t cost that much. Plastic is inexpensive and great for building stuff now days as the glues and sealants have improved tremendously. As far as I know, submarines are good to only a few inches below the water for R/C. A basic-stamp and perhaps a gyro and/or inertia sensors would increase the potential greatly.


    Miniature air pumps:

    I have yet to talk to anyone in the R/C boat world who has used GPS or even heard of a Basic-Stamp. Can you imagine how things will be when R/C and micro-controllers truly begin to merge? How about as swrider suggests; a solar powered autonomous sail-boats! I can see it now…submarines added to battle-boat competitions with camera periscopes and guided torpedoes! FIRE 1, FIRE 2, FIRE 3...! How about Ultra-Sonic guided BB-guns and depth-charges? The list is endless and new classes of competition are always welcomed. If not one can always start their own club. (Of course safety should always be number one!)


    Warship combat:

    Thanks all, keep the ideas flowing. I love to hear them.


    Post Edited (jhoyoza) : 4/14/2007 7:03:07 AM GMT
  • edited May 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Hi jhoyosa,

    Your neighbors are right. Of course your crazy, we all are. That is why we tinker with robot stuff in ice cold weather, or hard rains, etc., instead of watching TV all day long like all the normal people. Anyway, you have a great project for a first timer on microcontrollers. I've been messing around with them for many years, and your project is way cool. (I remember when the only way to do this stuff was with wire wrap of discrete components and then we got 8080's and programmable eproms, about 30 years ago, if that is any hint to my age.) Did you commit the design to a circuit diagram? Did you publish any source code? I would love to see that if you did.

    Great work. Thanks.
  • jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
    edited May 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Removed at request

    Post Edited (jhoyoza) : 6/11/2007 9:06:30 PM GMT
  • azmax100azmax100 Posts: 173
    edited May 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Hi jhoyoza

    Very Impressive· project.

    Can u provide schematic how to interface the RC circuit to BS2. I am trying to interface my RC Tank to BS2 but have no idea.

    Hope u can put some time on my request.

    Thanks in advance.
  • jhoyozajhoyoza Posts: 72
    edited May 2007 Vote Up0Vote Down

    Sure I will be glad to help you in anyway I can. Keep in mind, that the faster you go the better the GPS works. GPS units are not all that accurate especially for land based vehicles. (At least with my experience.) I once made a Monster-Truck platform (1:6 scale) and I hit every thing in the book...telephone poles, parked cars, name it. Certainly, others here may be able to help you with other sensors to avoid that. I lost interest, as the accuracy was terrible. For some reason even light-poles and wires seem interfere with it. And when getting close to tree-lines or buildings I would sometime lose signal. (I would follow it in my car as it went and try to see the read-out on a 4 X 20 I almost hit a few poles myself! roll.gif

    For some reason, in order to even get a GPS reading (with a hand-held) you need to be traveling at least 1MPH maybe 2MPH. This may be to fast for a hobby-tank, I'm not sure. The reason I choose a boat is that you really need a clear-sky-view and you can be off 50-60 feet and it won't (usually) make that much difference. With the addition of WAAS capabilities the accuracy is better than 1 meter 95% of the time. But, IMHO 5% is enough for disaster when using a land based vehicle and I don't think I achieved even 50% accuracy on land.

    I'm not sure but I think WAAS uses cell-phone towers to make it more accurate? Perhaps some one else may know?

    Well good luck anyway, and I'm working on a schematic now. I sort of winged it as I went and used sketchy notes, so I have to unravel the rat-nest so to speak. freaked.gif

    It should be ready in a week or so, depends how much time I have to work on it. Plus my copy of Auto-cad is on floppy-disk and this computer doesn't have one, so I will have to use MS-paint once I hand draw it.



    Post Edited (jhoyoza) : 5/7/2007 6:42:09 AM GMT
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  • Don_GatoDon_Gato Posts: 3
    edited January 2012 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Hi guys, i am very new to electronics and my field is actually computer science but I think the gps guided bot is super cool. I would like a walk through on this project because i really want to build this. HELP!!
  • HughHugh Posts: 355
    edited January 2012 Vote Up0Vote Down
    jhoyoza wrote: »
    For some reason, in order to even get a GPS reading (with a hand-held) you need to be traveling at least 1MPH maybe 2MPH.

    The GPS works out heading by measuring the change in position over time. That's why most autopilots use a compass, with the GPS determining where it is and what direction needs to be travelled to get to the next waypoint and the compass keeping things on track.

    Nice project. Well done!
    South Saxons - "we wunt be druv".
  • Don_GatoDon_Gato Posts: 3
    edited January 2012 Vote Up0Vote Down
    I would like to talk to some one via skype is anyone up for that?
  • TtailspinTtailspin Posts: 1,326
    edited January 2012 Vote Up0Vote Down
    This is a cool project.
    Don_Gato, Skype would not allow everyone to learn from the project,
    What would work better, is starting a new post in the robotics forum,
    That way many folks can contribute ideas and solutions to the project.

    Be sure to include what parts and pieces you allready have, GPS, Propeller, the Boat itself, ECT...

    So make a new post in the robotics forum, and we can all "walk through" the project with you...

  • Don_GatoDon_Gato Posts: 3
    edited January 2012 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Ok i will start a post with a sketch of what i would like to do and move from there
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