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Technology - the Zarco ASV

Zarco is a small size (1.5 m long) catamaran type vessel, designed to operate in quiet waters (rivers, lakes, dams). In its basic configuration, the vehicle weights a total of 50 kg, and has an additional payload capacity of another 50 kg. The vehicle is actuated by 2 electrical thrusters and can operate at speeds up to 3 knots. It carries an on-board computer to run fully autonomous or remotely controlled missions.

Mechanical Structure

Zarco's mechanical structure follows a highly modular approach. It is based on COTS anodized aluminum elements, forming a rigid frame that attaches to the lateral pontoons by a set of snap buttons, resulting in a catamaran arrangement. The pontoons are made of molded polyethylene, each with a net buoyancy of 50 kg.

Propulsion is provided by two electrical thrusters, based on standard trolling motors, located at the rear of the mechanical structure. They provide a maximum thrust exceeding 250 N. These motors were modified to receive power and commands from the computational module, instead of the traditional manual controllers.

For transportation, the pontoons are detached from the rigid frame and the shafts of the motors change into a horizontal position, so that all the structure can fit in the trunk of a car; since no tools are required to reassemble it, Zarco is ready to operate within a few minutes upon arrival at the mission site.

Electrical Components

Zarco has 2 separate watertight enclosures that seat on the aluminum frame: an energy module in the front and an electronics module in the rear.

Energy is provided by deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, with a total energy of 625 Wh. The energy module also holds electronic protection circuits, with voltage and current monitoring.

The electronics module contains the main computer, the navigation sensors and the motor power controllers.

The main computer is a PC-104 stack, with a power supply, the CPU, a communications board and a solid-state disk. A long range WiFi link provides communications to shore.

The navigation system has two L1+L2 RTK GPS receivers, an Inertial Measuring Unit and a digital compass.


Zarco has plenty of room to accomodate payload and the electronics enclosure has several spare connectors to provide energy and communications.

There is physical space for an extra enclosure with maximum base dimensions of 500x300 mm, but this can be increased by replacing some of the aluminum elements of the frame.


Overview of Zarco ASV


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