News / Vancouver

UBC engineers set sail against U.S. Navy

Any amateur sailing enthusiast knows it takes years to master the wind and waves, but what if a sailboat could sail itself?

That's what a team of UBC engineering students hope to prove when they takes on the U.S. Navy at the sixth annual Robotic Sailing Championships from June 11-14 at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.

The event was dreamed up in 2004 by UBC graduate Erik Berzins and has since become an international competition between mechanical engineering faculties throughout North America and Europe.

“A few schools came out to Vancouver in '04 and we showed them we built a boat,” Berzins said, noting that the experience helped land him a dream job as a yacht designer in Newport Beach, California.

Since its inception, the technology has improved to the point where the 1.5-metre sailboats can navigate themselves with sophisticated wind sensors and GPS tracking.

“These boats are fully autonomous now, which is pretty amazing,” Berzins said.

Participating universities include Aberystwyth University in Wales, California Polytechnic University and three-time defending champions the U.S. Naval Academy.

Kristoffer Vik Hansen, third year integrated engineering student and UBC team captain, said it's satisfying to bring together engineers from a variety of backgrounds to complete a tangible goal, something that doesn't happen often in a classroom setting.

“One of the major challenges in a student team is to get everyone hyped about the project,” Vik Hansen said. “We started out in September and went from basically scratch to building a new sailboat.”

The hodge-podge team of engineers will race against eight teams in an 11-kilometre race in English Bay on Wednesday.

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