ALIVE: The autonomous low-impact vessel revolutionizing cargo transportation in war zones

This self-navigating catamaran is low-cost, energy-efficient, and completely eco-friendly.
Tejasri Gururaj
ALIVE catamaran
ALIVE catamaran


War zones can be treacherous to navigate and dangerous for all life, but they require civilian and military aid. A group of engineering students from Rice University has now developed a self-navigating catamaran that can safely transport cargo to war zones without risking human lives. 

The autonomous low-impact vessel, or ALIVE, is the world's first fully autonomous sailboat capable of carrying food, medical supplies, and equipment. The design of the project includes components of electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering, demonstrating the deeply interdisciplinary scope of the project. 

The 7-student ALIVE team consisting of Freddy Angarita-Cuesta, Anna Frey, Jessica Kies, Alan Lopez, Oli MacGregor, Wyeth McKinley, and Scarlett Spindler, were advised by their professors David Trevas and Gary Woods. 

Design and function of the self-navigating catamaran

The boat is based on a two-hole catamaran design having a rudder to change the boat's direction in the water. It has been built to be low-cost and low-power to maximize efficiency while being able to carry at least 60 pounds (approximately 27.2 kg) of cargo.

One of the standout features of the boat is that it is not based on computer vision but a series of sensors instead. They use a GPS for coordinates, a wind sensor to measure the direction of the wind, and a magnetometer or a digital compass. The data obtained from these sensors help the boat make autonomous decisions about its movement. 

The sensors, along with the other design elements, help the boat travel between any two points, regardless of the wind conditions. The complications arise when the boat has to travel against the direction of the wind, which the team has termed a no-go zone. In this case, the boat moves between the starting point and the destination by zigzagging and maneuvering around the outside of the no-go zone.

ALIVE is entirely eco-friendly due to its solar panels, which can store energy for use in overcast periods. Additionally, it has the advantage of being able to travel in extremely shallow waters. This is because it has a shallow draft, which means that the distance between the hull and the waterline is much less. This allows it to navigate through shallow waters and get to hard-to-reach areas that are inapproachable by larger boats and ships.

The team plans on fitting the boat with a communication link so that it can record data from any location and send it back to a satellite for it to be used for future developments. The self-navigating catamaran is a revolutionary approach to transporting cargo to war zones while ensuring that human lives aren't put at risk.