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.

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.

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

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.

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

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