Schematic: A Close-up Look at Lehigh Ocean Research Craft Autonomous (LORCA) boats

Joachim Grenestedt, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics and director of Lehigh’s Composites Lab, and John Spletzer, associate professor of computer science and engineering and head of the VADER robotics laboratory, have collaborated on a groundbreaking project using self-driving watercraft.

The Lehigh Ocean Research Craft Autonomous (LORCA) boats were initially designed to measure ocean waves responsible for slamming loads on fast-moving craft. But Grenestedt speculates that LORCA boats could have wider applications beyond wave research, including in search-and-rescue operations, security and ocean mapping.

Grenestedt’s lab built 10 boats, with hardware development and manufacturing funded in part by the Office of Naval Research. A Lehigh Collaborative Research Opportunity (CORE) grant helped fund autopilot software and systems that Spletzer developed.

1.Size
LORCA boats are four feet in length, about the size of a small porpoise. They are light enough for a person to carry and can be launched from virtually anywhere.

2.Construction
Self-righting, LORCA boats have hull-shaped composite shells that are tough enough to withstand ocean waves.

3.Velocity
A brushless, inrunner electric motor driving a submerged propeller on a straight shaft can propel LORCA boats to speeds of 50 mph on top of open water.

4.Applications
LORCA boats, uploaded with map data, can be programmed to arrive at given points along a route. They can be used for surveillance, security, rescues or mapping.

Illustration: Bratislav Milenkovic

Related Stories

Students hunt for viruses in soil samples

What Happened to the Genomes—and the Fruit Flies?

Labs began reopening in June to graduate students and research staff, as the state’s stay-at-home orders were eased.

Illustration showing the complicated relationship between technology and labor.

David Zhang Works to Understand the Complicated Relationship Between Labor and Technology

Zhang explores IT’s potential to eventually replace higher-skilled workers. 

A solar panel field

A New Approach for Efficient Solar Energy Conversion

Lehigh engineers  have characterized the thermal energy conversion mechanism in the lattice of an advanced nanomaterial called chalcogenide perovskite and demonstrated its 'tunability'―important for its potential use in solar energy generation.