Powered by a Torqeedo electric motor and solar energy, the four-meter uncrewed surface vessel “Mahi Two” crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Battling severe storms and high waves, it proved the potential of the technology. A tale of robot adventure and human ingenuity.
Pieter-Jan Note’s gaze tracked the small boat between the high waves, navigating farther and farther away. Out into the Atlantic it moved, toward the point where the gray sky and dark sea merged in the haze. “It felt like leaving your child alone in the ocean,” the Belgian engineer recalls. But he also knew that he and the Project Mahi team had done everything they could to make their four-meter “baby” strong, robust and independent.
In computer simulations and tests, they had ensured that the watercraft could right itself in heavy swells and was resilient. Cameras, sensors, satellite connectivity and an onboard computer ensured that Mahi Two never lost its bearings. They had lovingly covered the deck with solar panels to keep the power going. And they had installed a Torqeedo Cruise 2.0 Pod electric motor that “goes on and on,” as Note says.
Mahi Two is believed to be the first solar-electric autonomous vessel to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean. The uncrewed surface vessel (USV) left the coast of Spain in September 2021 and reached Martinique, in the French Lesser Antilles, six months later after more than 8,000 km at sea. It’s a success story – and so much more. What happened between the coasts of Europe and America tells a lot about the potential of new technology, human creativity and the fact that you should simply never give up.
Solar power for electric mobility on the water
In the fall, everything went according to plan. Fair winds and weather followed the vessel to the Canary Islands and further west. The Mahi Two has a composite hull for strength, efficiency and durability and is fitted with a Torqeedo Cruise 2.0 pod drive and two 24V Torqeedo lithium-ion batteries charged by Solbian solar panels. The Mahi Two can reach 9 knots, in the first weeks it reached 5 knots on a regular basis.
The steering, communication, hardware integration, navigation and energy management onboard are all managed by Mahi’s self-developed USV software. The boat communicates via an onboard satellite modem, GPS and automatic identification system. The Mahi-crew received data updates every fifteen minutes – location, speed, solar power generated and some sensor data. “You develop a sort of empathy for the machine”, says Note, “imagine in what kind of conditions it is moving.” The fans of the project could follow the vessel in real-time on the website.