Building the Brain of the Speedcraft
Now that we have unveiled the Syroco speedcraft prototype, which will ultimately reach 80 knots over water, let’s look under the hood. More precisely, the front hood that opens on the electronics compartment, a highly strategic location where all the control-command and radio transmission systems can be found.
The first thing to remember is that, unlike the speedcraft that will shatter the record, the prototype is unmanned - it is a drone, essentially. This does not mean it is autonomous - pilots will be nearby, either on shore or on a support boat. But they’ll be flying the prototype remotely. There are several reasons for that - at the foremost, security and scale. This means that all systems are actionned by actuators (servomotors primarily), themselves commanded by radio signals.
By the way, as the kitesurfers on the team found out (yes, there are a few of these at Syroco) piloting a kite with anything other than a kite bar is not a trivial matter! The Syroco lab team designed a pretty ingenious kite control unit, on which we may shed some light later on. But for now its workings are very hush-hush. This is not to underplay the work done on foil control, and especially depth control. Let’s say there are many variables at play here.
To design the brain of the speedcraft, we decided to partner with Pixel sur Mer, a developer of customized embedded electronic systems for navigation and sailing. Pixel sur Mer serves the needs of offshore and inshore racing - including the America’s Cup - but also of the maritime transport and aeronautics industries.
Among the great projects the team at Pixel sur Mer has been working on, probably the most prestigious and complex one is the foiling flight control system of Gitana’s Maxi Edmond de Rothschild flying trimaran. The weight and speed of this boat require an ultimate degree of precision and computational speed. At Syroco, we have the same demands for perfection. So it was really great to work with these folks.
At the core of the control-command system of the speedcraft is the Exocet flight control central processor. It takes inputs from the situational awareness and operating sensors that are all over the speedcraft: height over water, azimuth and zenith angles, airspeed, wing and foil load, etc.
The Exocet also receives commands from the radio control unit used to pilot the speedcraft. It applies control laws and sends commands to the various actuators that operate the wing, the foil - and the emergency security systems.
Using the Manta design application, Syroco and Pixel sur Mer engineers have developed the control laws of the speedcraft. A special attention has been given to the data collection and logging mechanisms. We expect the test campaigns to deliver vast amounts of information. Processed through Syroco’s big data and artificial intelligence platforms, this information will be invaluable to improve our understanding of the speedcraft behavior, refine its performance and prepare the construction of the final speedcraft, with the 80 knots target in our sights! And maybe, who knows, develop autonomous flight controls tailored for the speedcraft...