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无人舰队,准备起航

2014-04-21 | 第一财经周刊作者 :黄俊杰 | 图 :金迪
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在MH370航班漫长的搜寻过程中,卫星和飞机找到的疑似残骸一次次被发现只是常年漂浮的塑料和金属。而4年前墨西哥湾泄露的石油至今没有被清理干净,依然不断伤害着周遭海豚和海龟的生存空间。
这时,如果有一支由数百艘小船组成的无人舰队,一天24小时、一年365天不间断地清理着海上的原油和垃圾,情况或许就会不同。
这正是Protei的目标。
Protei是一款不需要额外动力,完全依靠清洁能源就能在海上长期工作的小型无人船。在4月6日举办的深圳制汇节(Maker Faire)上,Protei创始人凯撒·原田(Cesar Harada)的小团队也带着最新的Protei原型机“乐天派”号(Optimist)前来参展。
仅两米长的“乐天派”看起来有点像大号的玩具帆船,船身一节一节,有如鱼骨一般——独特的船身是Protei与其他船只最大的不同,在水中转向时,船身也会随之弯曲,就像鱼一样。
如此设计并不是为了美观,而是为了拥有更持久的续航能力。
泄露的原油和海上飘荡的垃圾都会随洋流而流动,最有效的处理方法是让清洁用的船拖着长条型的清理设备逆流而上,沿“之”字航行。
帆船在逆流转向时会损失很多动力,必须有辅助动力才能继续维持航行方向。但原田同时希望Protei能够仅仅依靠风和阳光等清洁能源,便能长时间在海上进行工作。所以,变形船身是实现这一目标的关键。
“变形的船身就好像现代飞机的机翼。当飞机起飞或者降落时,你会看到机翼的很多部分会进行调整,形成多个平面,这样可以更有效地利用气流。”原田对《第一财经周刊》介绍说。相比之下,固定船身在他看来,就相当于60年前飞机机翼的设计水平了。
原田本是麻省理工学院的一位研究人员,从事海洋清洁方面的研究。2010年墨西哥湾石油泄露以后,他觉得自己参与的研究项目太过前瞻,无法迅速解决现实问题,而且学校申请了很多专利,也对技术的实际应用与普及形成一定阻碍。因此,原田决定辞去工作,创立Protei无人船项目。
想到变形船身的点子以后,原田自己首先用木块、电路板和防水塑料膜拼凑了四个简陋的样品来验证想法的可行性。随后在2011年,他通过众筹网站KickStarter筹得3万美元,开始产品化之路。
当2012年原田带着第5代原型机走上TED大会讲台时,Protei已经能像鱼类一样灵活地扭动身躯、调整航向了。
然而,之后的进展却并不顺利。
彼时,原田在鹿特丹租了一间厂房,请了10名工程师工作了3个月。但通过Kickstarter筹得的资金很快便被用完。后来加入的一位美国投资人也很快撤出。
“大约6个月的时间里,我们没有任何收入。对公司来说,那段时间非常艰难。不过我们依然继续改进设计,最后从Ocean Exchange拿到了10万美元研究资金。”原田回忆说。Ocean Exchange是由湾流和华轮-威尔森航运公司赞助的一个平台,专为初期阶段的海洋技术项目提供资金支持。
2013年年初,整个Protei团队参加了Unreasonable at Sea技术创业孵化器,4个月的时间里,团队随一艘邮轮从美国圣地亚哥一直航行至西班牙巴塞罗那,并和另外10家创业公司以及导师一起改进产品,完善商业思路。
这段旅途结束后,Protei也搬到了香港,将市郊一间简陋的屋子作为办公室。原田说,自己之所以选择香港而非制造业基地深圳的主要原因是,香港的市场环境相对开放,不但可以很快注册公司,而且能够正常访问Facebook、Twitter等网站——社交网站对Protei至关重要,来自这些网站的反馈可以直接帮助原田改进产品。
不同于传统实验室或者商业公司,Protei的开发流程高度依赖外界反馈,从而能够快速改进设计。
Protei研发团队每周的工作大体如下:每周一,设计一些部件;周二去深圳购买元器件;周三周四两天把元器件按照设计组装起来;周五进行测试,当天下午把测试数据放到网上;周末,线上反馈就来了,也为下一周的工作提供了参考和建议。
其实,除了变形以外,Protei还采用了模块化设计。当它需要负载更多的设备时,可以将多个架设着风帆的动力单元连接在一起,连接处可任意弯曲。Protei每个风帆顶部都装有传感器,当它在转向时,不同的风帆在电脑的控制下可以自动调整角度,确保最有效地利用风能。
为了在复杂的海洋环境下长期工作,原田希望Protei能够有对抗风暴的能力。除了通过传感器和处理器自动调整风帆和船身获得平衡外,Protei还得将体积控制得很小。
“这就好像蚂蚁。蚂蚁从一米高度掉到地上,并不会受伤。”原田解释说,更大的船虽然可以用更好的引擎,也有更好的质量,但小船则可以拥有更广阔的应用前景。
显然,他更倾向于组建由数以百计小船构成的船队,通过计算机算法让整个船队自动协同工作。人类控制者则可以直接远程操控整个船队,而非每人控制一艘船。
原田深受自己在麻省理工的前辈、iRobot公司创始人罗德尼·布鲁克斯(Rodney Brooks)的影响。布鲁克斯曾在1989年发表的一篇名为“Fast,Cheap,Out of Control”的论文里描绘了一个拥有大量小型、简易人工智能机器人集群的未来。在过去12年里,iRobot卖出了超过1000万台这样的小型Roomba吸尘器机器人。
是的,Protei所设想的基础即“无人”。船员需要一定的生存环境、食物和淡水才能生存,这就对远洋船只造成了很多限制——不但需要定期进港补给,还不能非常小。
事实上,无人控制设备,特别是无人飞机,已不算新奇,从几百元人民币就能买到的用iPhone遥控的飞行器,到美国生产的造价上千万美元的战斗机,不一而足。就连亚马逊也用“无人送货飞机”的设想为其财报添彩。
但很长一段时间,海上无人船的研究并不受人重视。当英国发动机生产巨头罗尔斯·罗伊斯年初宣布设计无人商船时,就饱受质疑。
波罗的海航运公会(BIMCO)分析师皮特·桑德(Peter Sand)曾在接受彭博社采访时表示,无人商船还停留在学术讨论阶段,没有任何委员会成员会提及无人操控船只的设想。而波罗的海航运公会的成员控制着全球2/3的商船队。
今天的商用货轮和油轮都已非常庞大并且高度自动化。一艘20万吨的远洋集装箱货轮往往只需要10至20人就能正常航行,因此无人货运对减少成本帮助有限。
但海洋科研不然。
“若要取得一些基本远洋数据,不仅需要派几位博士生去研究,还需要厨师、船长、水手等很多人支持考察船的运作。几个月下来,往往需要耗资上百万美元。”原田相信,廉价无人船将大大降低海洋科研的成本,让很多因“囊中羞涩”而无法进行的科研继续下去。
而除了科研和清理垃圾以外,原田也认为,无人船还有更多新的应用前景。
比如监控非法捕捞和偷渡行为。
目前,已经有不少国家开始用无人机监控领海,但即便最昂贵的军用无人机也只能在空中停留一两天,无法覆盖足够大的范围。
“有很多关于自然资源保护的规章,但发现不了非法捕捞,就没有意义。而大量装有传感器的无人船只,可以有效发现这种非法行为。”Protei可以起到永久监测站的作用,原田介绍说,目前已经有某些国家的军方联系咨询相关应用。
4月初,Protei已将“乐天派”原型机放在官网上销售,装配好的型号每艘售价1280美元,用户主要是志同道合的研究者。产品开卖第一周,Protei就收获了7艘船的订单。
当然,目前的原型机离原田的最终目标还很遥远,但维持公司运作,正是依靠这种边改进设计边销售的模式。
5月,原田将带着Protei奔赴芬兰——临近的波罗的海的全球水循环最慢的海域,有大量垃圾漂在海面,正等着他的“舰队”到来。
联系编辑:nini@yicai.com

— English

Unmanned fleet, ready to set sail
2014­04­21 | First Financial Weekly Author: Huang Chun­chieh | Figure: Kindi 41 0 0
In the MH370 flight lengthy search process, satellites and aircraft wreckage found suspected to be found again only perennial floating plastic and metal. And four years ago, the Gulf of Mexico oil leak has not been cleaned up, but they still hurt the dolphins and sea turtles around the living space.
At this time, if there is a team of hundreds of small boats unmanned fleet consists of 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to clean up the sea uninterrupted crude oil and garbage, the situation would probably be different.
This is Protei target.
Protei is a need for additional power, clean energy will be able to completely rely on long- term work for small unmanned boat at sea. In the April 6 festival organized by the Shenzhen exchange system (Maker Faire) on, Protei founder Cesar Harada (Cesar Harada) also with a small team of Protei latest prototype "optimist" sign (Optimist) come to the exhibition.
Only two meters long "optimist" looks a bit like a large toy sailboat, a section of the hull, like a fish bone in general – a unique hull is Protei biggest difference with the other boats in the water steering, Hull will also curved, like a fish.
This design is not for aesthetics, but to have a more lasting endurance.
Leaked oil and sea drift with ocean currents and garbage will flow, the most effective approach is to allow cleaning of the boat dragging long bar of cleaning equipment upstream, along "the" word voyage.
Sailing in the countercurrent will lose a lot of power steering, auxiliary power must be maintained in order to continue sailing directions. But Harada also hope Protei can only rely on clean energy such as wind and sun, will be able to work long hours in the sea. Therefore, the deformation of the hull is the key to achieving this goal.
"Deformed hull like modern aircraft wing when the plane taking off or landing, you will see a lot of parts of the wing will be adjusted to form a plurality of flat, so you can more effectively utilize the airflow." Harada on " First Financial Weekly "said. In contrast, fixed hull in his opinion, is equivalent to 60 years ago, the level of the aircraft wing design.
Harada is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engaged in the study of marine clean area. After the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he felt too involved in their own research projects forward, unable to quickly solve practical problems, and the school applied for many patents, but also on the practical application of technology and the popularity of a certain obstacles. Therefore, Harada decided to quit his job, the creation of Protei unmanned boat project.
Under a
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Thought of the idea after deformation of the hull, Harada himself first with pieces of wood, circuit boards and waterproof plastic film pieced together the feasibility of four simple sample to validate the idea. Then in 2011, he was raised by the public website KickStarter to raise $ 30,000 to start the product of the road.
When in 2012 with a fifth-generation prototype Harada TED Conference took the podium, Protei has been able to be as flexible as the fish writhing body, adjust the heading.
However, after progress was not smooth.
That time, Harada rented a workshop in Rotterdam, invited 10 engineers working for three months. However, the funds raised through Kickstarter will soon be exhausted. An American investor and later joined soon withdraw.
"About six months time, we do not have any income. For the company, that time is very difficult, but we still continue to improve the design, and finally from the Ocean Exchange got $ 100,000 in research funding." Harada recalls. Ocean Exchange by Gulfstream and Wallenius – Wilson Line sponsored a platform designed to provide financial support for the early stages of marine technology projects.
In early 2013, the entire Protei team participated Unreasonable at Sea technology business incubator, four month’s time, the team with a cruise ship has sailed from San Diego to Barcelona, S​pain, and another 10 start-up companies as well as mentors to improve products together, sound business ideas.
After the end of this journey, Protei also moved to Hong Kong, the outskirts of a shabby house as an office. Harada said he chose the main reason for the non-manufacturing base in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s relatively open market environment, not only can quickly registered company, and can normally access Facebook, Twitter and other sites – social networking sites crucial for Protei important feedback from these sites can help Harada improve the product.
Unlike traditional laboratory or commercial companies, Protei development process is highly dependent on external feedback, which can quickly improve the design.
Protei R & D team working week roughly as follows: every Monday, the design of some components; Tuesday to go to Shenzhen to buy components; Wednesday and Thursday two days according to the design of the components are assembled; Friday test, the test data in the afternoon on the web ; weekend, online feedback came, also provides references and suggestions for the next week’s work.
In fact, in addition to the deformation, Protei also uses a modular design. When it needs to load more equipment, you can be more than one set of sails power unit connected together, the connection can be bent. Protei top of each sail is equipped with sensors, when it is turned, different sails under control of the computer can automatically adjust the angle, to ensure the most efficient use of wind energy.
For long-term work in the complex marine environment, Harada hope Protei to have the ability to fight the storm. In addition to the sensor and the processor automatically adjusts the sails and hull to achieve balance outside, Protei have to control the volume is very small.
"It’s like ants Ants fell to the ground from a height of one meter, and not get hurt." Harada explained that larger ships can better engine though, there are better quality, but you can
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have a broader boat application prospects.
Obviously, he is more inclined to build a fleet of hundreds of boats constituted by a computer algorithm automatically work together so that the entire fleet. Humans who can directly control the entire fleet of remote control, rather than each control a ship.
Harada by MIT’s own predecessors, iRobot co-founder Rodney Brooks (Rodney Brooks) impact. Brooks has published an article in 1989 entitled "Fast, Cheap, Out of Control" papers have portrayed a large number of small, simple artificial intelligence robot cluster in the future. In the past 12 years, iRobot has sold more than 10 million units so small Roomba vacuum cleaner robot.
Yes, the foundation Protei envisaged that "nobody." Crew needs some living environment, food and water to survive, and this caused a lot of boats on the ocean restrictions – not only require regular supplies into port, it can not be very small.
In fact, no control equipment, especially unmanned aircraft, has not novel, from a few hundred yuan will be able to buy the iPhone remote control aircraft, the cost of production to the United States millions of dollars on fighter jets, which varies foot. Even Amazon is also used ideas "unmanned aircraft delivery," the luster of its earnings.
But for a long time, no research ship at sea is not the subject of attention. When the British engine giant Rolls-Royce announced in early design unmanned merchant, it suffered questioned.
Baltic Association (BIMCO) analyst Peter Sander (Peter Sand) had interview with Bloomberg News, said that no merchant still in the stage of academic discussion, no member of the committee will mention the idea of u​nmanned vessels. The members of the Baltic Association of the global merchant fleet control 2/3.
Today’s commercial cargo ships and tankers are very large and highly automated. A 200,000 tons of ocean-going container ships often only need 10-20 people will be able to normal navigation, and therefore no one to help reduce the cost of freight on limited.
However, marine scientific research is not.
"To get some basic ocean data, not only need to send several doctoral students to study, but also a lot of people cook, captain, sailor and other supporting research ship operations. Few months, often need to spend millions of dollars." Harada believe, cheap unmanned ship will greatly reduce the cost of marine scientific research, so many research because of "cash- strapped" and can not continue.
And in addition to research and rubbish, Harada also believes that there are no more new boats prospects.
Such as monitoring illegal fishing and smuggling behavior.
Currently, many countries have started using drones monitoring territorial waters, but even the most expensive military UAVs can only stay twelve days in the air, can not cover a large enough range.
"There are a lot of regulations on the protection of natural resources, but could not find illegal fishing, it does not make sense, while a large number of unmanned vessels equipped with sensors that can effectively detect such illegal acts." Protei can play the role of permanent stations, Harada said that there are already some countries military ties
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consulting related applications.
月初 4, Protei has "optimist" prototype on the official online sales, assembled model priced $ 1,280 per vessel, users are mainly like-minded researchers. Products on sale in the first week, Protei harvested seven vessels on order.
Of course, the current prototype from Harada’s ultimate goal is still far away, but to maintain the company’s operations, it is relying on this side edge sales model to improve the design.
May, Harada will take Protei went to Finland – Baltic Sea slowest global water cycle approaching, there is a lot of rubbish floating in the sea, waiting for his "fleet" soon.
To contact the editor: nini@yicai.com
By cesarharada.com on 2014-05-06 20:36:24
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