Scout Transatlantic: When is a Failure not a Failure?

Maker News

Sometimes good things come from apparent failures. This is what happened to the young team behind the autonomous motorboat Scout, which failed to reach its goal of crossing the Atlantic ocean last year.

Dylan Rodriguez, Dan Flanigan, Max Kramers, Ken Muller, Brendan Prior, Mike Flanigan, and David Pimental began their journey back in 2010, when Dylan and Max joked that they’d build a robot boat to stay in touch while Max studied in Spain. The joke turned into a project. By sharing their plans with friends and supporters, it grew into something much greater.

Left to Right: Dylan Rodiguez, Dan Flanigan, Mike Flanigan, Brendan Prior, and Max Kramers.

The team hoped to build the first autonomous powered surface vessel to cross the Atlantic. They did break a record, traveling over 1,300 miles from their starting point off Rhode Island before they lost all communications with the boat.

I spoke with Dylan about his experience. He was disappointed that they didn’t achieve their goal. However, it turns out the journey was more important than the destination.

“We found through this project that we loved capturing peoples’ imaginations with creative engineering,” says Dylan.

They invited people to be part of something daring and exciting, and Scout gained thousands of avid followers. A live tracking feature on their website allowed supporters to follow along, and many did, EVERY morning. That’s a success.

The website got lots of hits from government domains. Some members of NOAA contacted them with well-wishes and ideas. They received coverage from NPR, the BBC, IEEE, MAKE and even a Russian news organization.

Interest didn’t diminish after Scout was lost. The team has been contacted to do work by many interested parties. They founded Scout Technologies, Inc. to pull in members of the original team, depending on the project. If you can add value, you get involved. Otherwise you wait for the next project. At this point, everyone is just looking at this as opportunities to do interesting work together; they’re not overly concerned with making money.

Jamestown Distributors, the primary sponsor for Scout, hired them to consult on a system to monitor boats. On another project Max and Dylan installed deflection sensing strain gauges into the hull of a million dollar trimaran to measure lift generated by the boat’s hydrofoils.

Dan and Dylan started another company, Kroova Communications, to make data collection easy and accessible for the average researcher or scientist. Their system can stream data over cellular and satellite communications links, and will connect up to four sensors per unit. They are still in development, but already have one committed customer.

Max and Dylan have also started to sketch out plans for an updated version of Scout that could motor up and down the coast collecting salinity or other data and stream it back to scientists in their labs.

Members of the team have received some requests from companies seeking their resumes. However, Dylan is putting all of his time into Scout Technologies and Kroova Communications. “At this age we can afford to take risks,” says Dylan.

Whatever develops, the Scout project was a fantastic learning experience. These young men put years of effort into a venture few would have risked. Though it didn’t turn out exactly as they planned, it has opened many doors. Perhaps that is more important.

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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