Background

The vision of machines which relieve more and more tasks of humans induced many scientific initiatives in mobile robotics. Research in fully autonomous sailing boats was recently stimulated by the Microtransat idea of Mark Neal and Yves Briere. An increasing number of research teams around the world try to teach their boats the complex task of sailing. The best routeing decision, perfect handling of ever changing wind conditions and perfect timing during tack and jibe are some of the skills an autonomous sailing vessel has to master.

A robotic sailboat is able to autonomously navigate towards any given target without human control or intervention. The optimal route is calculated dependent on strategic goals and weather parameters. Rudder and sails are autonomously controlled in order to keep course and to execute manoeuvres like tack and jibe. As sailboats operate in a highly dynamic, environment an autonomous sailboat has to respond quickly to ever-changing environmental conditions. Incoming data from sensors (GPS, compass, anemometer, etc.) have to be analysed permanently by intelligent control mechanisms.

World's best autonomous sailing boats compete every year in order to win the world championship in robotic sailing. This yearly event coincides with a scientific conference on the topic. The papers show the current focus of research in the robotic sailing community. In the recent years, routeing and intelligent control algorithms dominated the scientific discussion.