Objects floating in the water, so-called UFOs (Unknown Floating Objects), pose an enormous danger to sailing yachts. At the last Vendée Globe in 2016 alone, five of the eleven wrecked boats collided with floating debris. The high speeds of the current racers cause major damage even with relatively small obstacles. Comparatively slow cruising yachts are less at risk. But there are also cases here: For example, a Sweden Yachts 45 participating in the World-ARC sank in the Indian Ocean in 2012 - after an unknown object collided with the rudder blade.
The Oscar camera unit is mounted on the mast and weighs around 800 grams
The Oscar system developed by the French company BSB-Marine is designed to prevent such collisions. It is closely related to the technology used in the automotive industry for autonomous driving. A camera system mounted in the mast top monitors the sea area from the bow with two thermal imaging cameras and one daylight camera, which creates a three-dimensional image. The data is evaluated in real time by a computer and examined for possible obstacles using self-learning image recognition software. In order to assess whether a collision is imminent, the movement of the objects is also taken into account. If the software detects a potential opponent in a collision, it gives an alarm. Depending on the setting, the autopilot can also automatically evade.
Oscar is available in two versions. The basic variant should work up to a boat speed of 30 knots and can make out objects of one square meter at a distance of 75 meters. The top model is twice as sensitive and should work up to 40 knots boat speed.
The Oscar collision protection system
The system is currently in the beta test phase and is being used by several Imoca 60 teams, for example the spectacular "Charal" foil from skipper Jérémie Beyou is equipped with an Oscar. In practice, the system is said to have already identified fishing net buoys.
As promising as the technology sounds, Oscar has so far been more suitable for professional teams than for touring skippers. The problem is the price: The thermal imaging cameras used come from Flir and are very expensive, so the costs are around 24,000 euros. By using a cheaper camera system, the manufacturer hopes to be able to reduce the price to around 5,000 euros in the long term. That would put Oscar on the level of a conventional radar system.
More information at: www.oscar-system.com