Drive by wire boat for kids

Hello there,

I am totally new to Arduino but I recently heard about the amazing things you can build using one. My background is in engineering and instrumentation so I have some familiarity with sensors, logic programming, wiring, etc.

Here is my vision for a project, hoping someone more experienced could help me with which boards/ sensors/ and techniques would be best for me:

I would like to build a miniature boat powered by a small gas engine (like maybe 3 feet across the stern, 5 feet long) for my kids to drive close the the beach on the lake, like a powerwheels truck if anyone is familiar with those. I recently thought to make the steering and throttle "Fly by wire" instead of physical mechanical connections. I would also like the ability to remotely take over control via Radio communication for safety/ or just to keep them from escaping. By flipping a switch on my tranmitter I would like to kill their controls and use my own for the rudder and throttle control.

Simplified list of controls:

-Steering wheel rotary input (doesn't have to be rotary if not available) to an actuator or servo output to control rudder -Throttle input (suggest possible options) to an actuator or servo to control gas engine throttle -A way for an RC Tranmitter (maybe 4 or 5 channel) to shut down or override their controls -RC transmitter emergency kill switch for gas engine -RC tranmitter input to control same output to rudder -RC transmitter input to control the same output to throttle

Does this sound feasible using Arduino Hardware and programming or am I looking in the wrong place entirely? How easy is it to combine Arduino and standard RC components?

Thank you for taking the time and any help is greatly appreciated!

  • Mike

Shouldn't be too hard to build (for someone with some experience in Arduinos and wireless communications), but you have to make really really sure it's going to work as intended. Losing control of the boat (either in the boat or the RC) may mean losing the kid that's inside it with it.

Thank you for your concern. I plan on doing extensive testing before my kids go anywhere near it. They will only be able to use it when I am close enough to get them in the case of total failure.

In my state, Oregon, it would still have to be licensed. And inspected if ever brought in from from out of state.


\PS. I forgot to mention the annual safety inspection. I'm not a boat owner.

I like the idea, but I would consider building a “power unit” that is separate from the boat and have it move the boat via a tow bar / tow line setup. I would use a jet ski type impeller so there reduced dangers. No matter how reliable a gas engine is, it’s hot, flammable, and rotating fast, putting that in a separate vessel away from kids seems like win-win senario.

In such a senario the power unit would be legally equivalent to a R/C toy and likely no legislations but still check with your local government.

I’m thinking watercraft under a certain size and horsepower won’t require certification and inspections, etc. but all good points to look into. I’m trying to recreate one I’ve seen on YouTube (maybe built in Australia) where the guy builds a replica ski boat out of aluminum for his kid, I would just like to add the additional security of R/C bypass and automatic safety systems. What Arduino/ hardware should I buy to accomplish what I’ve laid out as my plan?

You first have to detail your plans much better.

RC: some kind of wireless link; what kind depends on the distance you want covered. It's on the water, presumably the craft is always in sight, so that'd help a lot. NRF24 may do already, it can do 20-30m or so, for longer distance maybe look at RFM69 modules or so (check which frequencies are available in your locality), or others.

Automatic safety systems: need detailed definition on what they have to do, and what sensors are needed. An automatic "return to base" system is not straightforward if you can not somehow guarantee there will be no obstacles in the way (of both the fixed and mobile kind, possibly submerged: land masses, bouys, ropes, swimmers, other craft, etc).

For steering controls, an appropriately sized servo or other actuator comes to mind. Which one depends on the size of the craft and the torque needed for the steering.

Motor controls, if it's a DC electric motor: an appropriately sized motor controller. In case of a gas engine you'd need servos to handle throttle and gear, again the servo to select depends on the torque needed. A kill switch may not be that good an idea to use when a craft is in the middle of a lake, as that way you leave it dead in the water.

Steering wheel rotary input: an appropriate rotary encoder or analog pot. The second has the advantage of providing an absolute signal, the first can do more turns but upon startup you have no idea how the wheel is positioned.

Same for the throttle input.

Definitely go for electric. So much easier to control and less explosive than gasoline. You don't need it to run any longer than an hour between charges and 15 minutes would still keep the kids pretty happy. So the battery can be quite small. Maybe only a couple of kg.