This autonomous boat is trying to cross an ocean using only solar power

The craft will launch May 30th and try to reach Hawaii from California

The sun is a powerful source of energy. So powerful, in fact, that Damon McMillan is betting his boat can cross more than 2,000 miles of ocean using only its rays.

McMillan is the captain of Seacharger, which is on a mission to become the first unmanned, autonomous boat to cross an ocean using only solar power. It’s a project that McMillan and three of his friends have worked on for two and a half years, after being inspired by a robotic sailboat competition.

Constructing the boat took a lot of trial and error, McMillan says, and at times it seemed an impossible task.

“If I had started believing that I had to get to the end tomorrow, I never would have continued. So it’s always just one step at a time,” he said.

Judging by the intricate design, it’s no wonder the craft took over two years to build. It's powered by two ultra-thin, 100-watt solar panels and a brushless motor. Batteries store any surplus power, so Seacharger can travel for up to three days without needing more sunlight. A satellite modem, an Arduino-based autopilot system, and some homegrown software help the boat stay on course.

Seacharger Maker Faire Martyn Williams

The Seacharger on display at Maker Faire in San Mateo, California on May 20, 2016.

McMillan plans to launch the boat from Avila Beach, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, on May 30, Memorial Day.

From there, Seacharger will travel southwest towards Hawaii, where McMillan hopes to retrieve it a month later.

You can track the boat’s progress online at www.seacharger.com.

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