Top 24 Under 24: Local engineer aims to robo-sail across Atlantic

Published in 24 Hours Vancouver | October 24, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+

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Whether trying to sail a robotic boat across the Atlantic or serving in the Norwegian Coast Guard, Kristoffer Vik Hansen has a passion for the high seas.

This year, the University of B.C. integrated engineering student competed in the International Robotic Sailing Regatta with his team against such competition as the U.S. Navy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and won.

“I’ve always been interested in technical things,” said the 24-year-old. “I remember being on my uncle’s boat (and) thinking how awesome it was this thing didn’t have an engine. As a kid it was very exciting. Actually, it’s still very exciting as an adult!”

He describes being powered by the natural force of the wind as an “amazing science” many take for granted.

After winning the competition, his “Sailbot” team is now designing a craft they hope will be the first automated vessel to navigate the Atlantic.

“That’s a much bigger challenge,” he admits. “The Atlantic is usually considered the hardest of the oceans, because of its weather patterns … and there’s a lot more traffic.

“The French Navy attempted it, and the U.S. Navy are building a boat to attempt it too, but so far nobody has succeeded.”

The problem is unpredictable factors – container ships, icebergs, fishing nets and flotsam can capsize robot boats that are typically less than two metres. The UBC team is creating a system to monitor shipping routes and detect obstacles.

It’s a hobby, but many predict applications for boat drones in commerce and military intelligence, as well as detecting or cleaning marine oil spills.

“The advantage of a robotic sailboat is you can potentially save a lot on fuel,” he said. “That’s the key idea.”

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