It has been a long time since the last news story. Obviously, aiming for 2010 did not work out. Nevertheless, work on Avalon never stopped. As I'm writing this, I'm sitting on our chase boat amidst the Lake of Zurich, wrapped in about 5 layers of thermal clothing and enjoying the first rays of sunlight for this year while Avalon sails back and forth between some waypoints. Testing has never been so relaxing...
How did we get here? At the end of 2009, most of us left ETH to do internships in various places in the world. While we were away, two master students wrote their thesis about the boat software. A lot of things have been improved in the scope of their work. A sophisticated simulator has been written, the rudder controller has been completely rewritten, the navigation algorithm has been overhauled and exteded with dynamic obstacle avoidance using AIS messages broadcasted by other ships. In the simulator, Avalon has sailed continuously for over one week without human help. However, even the best simulator can never fully replace testing on the real boat. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and wintery conditions, very few of these things have actually been tested on the water.
Now, we have gathered the original team to conduct a series of tests over one week to test and refine the software. As expected, a few things did not immediately work and had to be adapted. However, thanks to the great facilities of Segler-Vereinigung Thalwil (SVT) where we were able to set up our base during these tests, we have made huge steps forward and quickly sorted out the major problems. Avalon has sailed without any human interaction and without problems for over 1.5 hours, constantly navigating back and forth between predefined waypoints. Then we got cold and bored and stopped the boat. There was no reason to believe that Avalon would have ever stopped sailing if we had not stopped it voluntarily. Now, it is down to fine tuning to further improve sailing performance and cut down energy consumption by the actuators.