NodeBoat - Super cool boat building!

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spark at js.con! yaaaay!

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Well, I am here in singapore and there is a JSConf happening. I have never been a JS guy but I have come to the understanding that JS is really powerful. Why? I am still figuring out

So I am completely pumped up to attend my first JS conference and suddenly I receive a mailer which said NodeBoat workshop the first day using and node.

I loved this, mainly cause i am a hardware crazy guy and bringing both the worlds together is just brilliant.

The day started with the awesome organisers giving us cores. We claimed our cores and based on the pin configuration and charts given to us we built the circuit. Sounds simple right?

Well there are certain things you learn only when you get hands dirty, a simple reverse pin assembly fried our battery pack and then you understand, WOAH this is not as simple as it looks. You really need to pay attention when you are building boards and connecting them to a power source.

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work in progress! yaaay #nodeboat #jsconf #redmart

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The base circuit was built and we were able to communicate to the core via the calls and sample programs given to us.

Now comes the hard part: Building the boat itself. More than using the core and programming, the engineering aspect of the boat was the toughest and personally the best experience.

What I realised during the workshop was, we really take things for granted and sadly the main reason for this is our education system. We are shown what a boat is and how the motor of a boat works. It is just tip of the iceberg, the tough part is how does a boat stay afloat and survives currents.

My friend and I who were working together on this, made a small plan for the boat. We used wood pieces for the bottom, a plastic box on top to hold the circuit and we made sure no water enters the box. We then added the propellers under the wood pieces and built a rudder that helps the boat navigate left and right, VIOLA , we thought our boat was ready.

We tested the boat in calm waters and it definitely worked.

Then we spent the next hour programming that let us control the boat from a web app by turning the motors on and off and moving the rudder left and right.

30 Minutes to final bell , we took our boat to harsh waters where the actually competition was going to be held. Our boat just sunk. The pool where the competition was being held had a water flowing in from a little height thus creating currents. Our boat could not handle currents. We had to change the design aspect of the boat in 30 minutes.

We had our brains running in full speed and here is what we did, we took 2 small water bottles and added them on the side thus giving our boat more buoyancy. Our boat was afloat. #Whooohoho

We took it back to test and what happened was our boat was moving around in circles. We were like what the fuck is happening. Then suddenly we had a brain wave. We had reversed one motor i.e one motor was spinning in clock-wise and the other motor was spinning in anti-clock wise. Simple wiring going wrong. We fixed that and our boat was ready to race!


Our boat was ready, it was afloat and it was ready to go! 5 Seconds into the race our boat was thrusting forward and then suddenly the rudder fell down. We had a weak rudder and we had no way off fixing it. The organisers gave us time to get it fixed. We did not know what to do, we just fixed the rudder back on. Also another important thing we realised is, we were communicating with the boat Via HTTP and I am telling you this now HTTP is bloody slow. I was moving the rudder too fast not realising it takes time for it reflect on the boat.

On our second chance our boat reached half length of the pool and I failed to control the rudder right and hence we started moving in circles again cause of the strength of the current.

On this day, I understand for the first time the pain people took in building boats. Not big amazing boats, just boats! And how engineering and design is so important. I now know what it is to be an actual engineer.

And why i am not one.

Building something on our own and seeing it work is absolutely something else. I might be biased but when hardware and software come together there is some magic in it. Hoping I will do more building and learning from here onwards. Baby steps.

Nischal Harohalli Padmanabha
Software Engineer by profession, filter kapi drinker by choice.

My research interests include deep learning, large scale engineering and social interactions.