Ada the sailbot rescued at sea after a year out of contact with UBC team

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After a year lost at sea, damaged and long out of contact with its creators, the sailbot, christened Ada, has been rescued from the Atlantic Ocean.

The autonomous vessel, built by students at the University of B.C., was found adrift and sail-less off the Florida coast on Dec. 1 by a team of scientists aboard the American research vessel Neil Armstrong.

It took a bit of googling, but the expedition team quickly traced the bot back to the UBC team.

“I’d say the feeling was pretty amazing, both in terms of the vessel being found, but, more importantly, how this … U.S. research vessel was able to identify whose vessel it was,” said Kristoffer Vik Hansen, who was part of the team that built Ada.

UBC students launched the five-metre-long vessel from the waters off St. John’s, Nfld., in August 2016 with the dream that it might reach Ireland, all the way on the other side of the Atlantic.

UBC sailbot team

UBC students launch the sailbot Ada off the coast of Newfoundland in August 2016. (UBC)

The team lost contact with Ada about a week into the voyage, then managed to locate it once again, tracing its progress for another two months while it hit several gale-force storms. Contact was permanently lost in November 2016.

“Obviously, we were sad to see it gone,” Vik Hansen told CBC News.

But, by that point, he says, Ada had already set a record for the farthest distance travelled across the Atlantic by an autonomous vessel.

“It feels pretty good, especially when the people you beat are the U.S. Navy,” Vik Hansen joked.

Now that Ada has been located, the team is trying to get the sailboat back to UBC so they can figure out what went wrong — and how to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

“Much like autonomous cars, there’s  enormous potential for autonomous marine vessels, both in terms of improving safety at sea, improving efficiency and connecting the world closer together,” Vik Hansen said.

SailBot at sea

Ada, the UBC sailbot, underwent about a month of testing in the waters near Conception Bay South before launch. (UBC SailBot Team)


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