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3D CAD Design

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Smart Winch

The concept of the patented smart winch is to provide power support while providing an authentic crew experience. The concept is very similar to the power steering in a car. Loads are reduced but in the ideal case the driver does not notice this power assistance because the car still “feels” natural.

The smart winch relies on modern electronics to achieve this goal. Similar to a modern car accelerator pedal mechanical connections have been replaced by electronics. A sensor measures the position of a trim rope and sends electronic signals to the winch.

One immediate advantage is that the electronics don’t care what the load on the sail is. It does not matter if the sail is 8m2 or 800m2. To the crew both sails will feel the same. In other words the smart winch makes it possible to trim very large sails by hand!

Because electronic cables can easily create a connection from the cockpit to anywhere on the boat the winches themselves can also be installed almost anywhere. For example the winches can be put into the bilge where they can’t injure the crew making the cockpit much safer.

Because electronics control the actual winch it is also possible to implement numerous safety and convenience functions.

Again using the car accelerator as an example the equivalence to cruise control would be automatic trimming of the sails based on wind speed and direction. This is easily possible if the winch is connected to the wind instruments. With automatic trimming enabled the helmsman only has to steer the boat in the right direction and the electronics trim the sails automatically.

This function is great for small or inexperienced crews. For example when sailing a racing yacht with a small crew it would be possible to put the jib onto auto trim and to trim the main sail by hand. With inexperienced crew or when entertaining guests the auto trim function reduces the work load of the captain.

Numerous safety functions are also possible. In a car the electronics reduce engine power if the wheel slip has been detected. On a yacht the electronics ease the main sail when the boat heels too much. This will prevent loss of control over the boat direction or keep the cocktail glasses on the table.

Sheet loads can also be constantly monitored and compared to allowable maximum loads for the sail. If the loads are exceeded the sheet is eased automatically to prevent sail and rig damage.

Other non-traditional sail control options are also possible. For example I developed an application for a smart phone which allows the phone to be used as a remote control for the winches. With a wireless connection it is possible to find a convenient location on deck and to trim the sails from that location. The trimmer does not have to be near the winch or in the cockpit any more. Theoretically the trimmer does not have to be on the boat at all!

Currently we are developing a prototype for testing on a yacht with our winch partner. If everything goes to plan testing is scheduled for the last quarter of 2012.