Can Raspberry Pi steer a boat across the Atlantic?

Full disclosure: it’s an autonomous boat, not one that actual humans can set sail in. Raspberry Pi Zero W powers a prototype boat set to tackle the Microtransat Challenge, which aims to encourage the development of autonomous watercraft with a little friendly transatlantic competition.

autonomous electric boat zero w powered
Not the Atlantic, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere

Don’t come at me for the gently misleading blog title. Headlines are supposed to do a job and now that you’re here, let’s all have a good time together.

Sailing gone electric

Maker slash captain Matt Clarke has set out on his bid to ace the Microtransat Challenge with a 3D-printed version of what he hopes will become the boat that navigates the Atlantic. The plan for the final design is to include solar panels which will power all aspects of the craft.

The boat is called Casper. It’s Casper the friendly boat!

Most entries to the Microtransat Challenge are unmanned sailboats with robotics controlling the sail, but Matt wanted to try something different and use purely electric propulsion. You may have noticed the lack of a rudder on Casper the boat: this is because he opted to use differential thrust for yaw control.

autonomous electric boat zero w powered
The high seas of Matt’s bathroom

Matt 3D printed the very first prototype at home, and when that proof of concept survived a bathtub test, it was time to move on. Turns out PCB Way lets you 3D print your designs in a range of materials, including metal, so the current Casper is a fully aluminium 3D-printed creation. All the STL files for the hull design are available on Dropbox.


A Pix32 v5 is the flight controller and is connected over serial to a Raspberry Pi Zero W for wireless telemetry. The Zero also had one of our cameras attached to it in the early development stages, but it looks like Matt switched out to the bigger GoPro you can see during the lake tests in the project video.

This hardware lives inside an airtight snap-lid food container, but the boat’s motors and all the wires connecting everything are inside the main body of the craft. Matt threw everything he could at the hold to make it watertight down there. Regular shop-bought silicon wasn’t good enough, so clingfilm and velcro straps were added after the lake tests showed signs of leakage inside the hull.

Good luck with your ongoing design, Matt. We hope Raspberry Pi makes it into the final craft that takes the journey from Plymouth, UK to New York, US. Cross your fingers for Casper the friendly boat!

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