We’ve mentioned Steve Roberts before. I’m fond of calling him “the original over-gadgeted technomad”, and he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s just finished overhauling the public outreach portion of his ambitious Nomadness Project, which many Navagear readers will probably find interesting.
In case you’re not familiar with Steve Roberts, he became somewhat notorious as a "high-tech nomad" when he took off from Ohio in 1983 aboard a computerized recumbent bicycle, writing articles and books while pedaling around the US. He covered 17,000 miles on three versions of the machine (BEHEMOTH), which now resides in the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. This was arguably the first instance of mobile texting as well as proto-blogging… Roberts typed in binary chords on a handlebar keyboard while riding, using an ultrasonic head mouse to control the console Macintosh, an interfaced cellular phone, and a hacked Qualcomm trucker-satellite unit for 24/7 wireless email (in 1990). We take this kind of always-connected technology for granted these days, but twenty years ago it was genuinely “gee-wiz” amazing!
After he hung up his pedaling shoes, the technomad spent a decade building the Microship, a canoe-scale amphibian pedal/solar/sail micro-trimaran. But like many home-built boats, by the time it was finished his needs had grown to something on a larger scale.
His current boat, Nomadness, is an Amazon 44 steel pilothouse cutter, and in the spirit of previous projects he is geeking it out with an extensive network of embedded systems. The original saloon is becoming a lab, with wrap-around sloping consoles for systems, communications, audio/video production, and engineering… and he’s carrying on-board printed-circuit fabrication tools, development systems. a piano studio, and a robotic assembly machine for rapid-prototyping small parts. I tied up alongside and spent some time aboard a year or two ago, and it was pretty incredible.
"Just think of it as Starship Enterprise on a sailboat," he quips. "The entire user interface, except for safety-critical stuff like engine and navlights, is managed locally or remotely through hand-held web browsers and speech. Data logging includes over 250 sensors and derived data points."
Roberts has been publishing the technical details of his projects for years, and has written 6 books. He has decided to document Nomadness system design as a weekly PDF publication, which will be compiled quarterly into a print edition and then later mined for a series of "design packages" with associated kits. He also blogs (at nomadness.com) but emphasizes that posts there are softer, more about the adventure stories and lifestyle transitions. The hard-core nautical geekery, sometimes with schematics and other detailed design info, appears in the Nomadness Report. And THAT’S the real reason we’re talking about Steve Roberts now. This is a new offering, and it should be interesting.
Cost is $20/year, which amounts to 38 cents an issue. "I want to make subscribing a no-brainer for anyone interested in moving beyond the standard marine electronics material," Steve says. "I’m of course integrating a lot of off-the-shelf systems, and depend heavily on Panbo, Navagear, and other sources for access to current product info… but most of this project is about custom overlays that add capabilities not available in the marketplace. That’s what I’ll be sharing with my readers… along with hacks, geek humor, and the whole twisted gonzo-engineering narrative."
To subscribe, grab a free introductory sample copy, or see the contents of current issues, visit:
If you’re curious about his previous projects, Steve’s "front door" is http://www.microship.com