The recent developments in autonomous sailboats, i.e. sailboats that can sail themselves, is one of the more interesting subsets of sailboat racing. I find it fascinating; the technical geekiness required to get a total system design functioning at a level to get this robotic sailboat to work. All this development has been spurred by the MicroTransat challenge, the first team to successfully get a sailboat under 4 meters in length to cross the Atlantic by itself. Several teams around the world have been building prototypes but they recently ran into a hitch when those international authorities who control the oceans put a kabosh on the MicroTrasat unless competitors come up with a collision avoidance system on top of everything else.
Here was the first championship in autonomous sailboats held in Austria 2008.
The Roboat used a Laerling hull originally designed by Jan Linge (designer of the Soling and Yngling) as a kids keelboat. The University of Wales used what looked to be a Topper TAZ rotomolded dinghy.
A week or so ago, the US Naval Academy hosted Sailbot 2009 for autonomous sailboats. The rule had been tweaked down to promote smaller boats. Three teams showed up. They had four competitions; a match race, a navigation race, a station keeping competion and a long distance race. I got down during my lunch break and took some quick video of mostly shore preparation. The U.S Naval Academy won but everyone had their problems.
I did catch a glimpse of one of the Navy sailbots during the long distance race narrowly avoiding the big Annapolis tour boat "The Harbor Queen".