I had a thought, that it would be pretty to do international shipping with solar powered sailboats. So I looked it up and found that robo-sailboats are a thing already, though in their infancy:
I'm struck by how this sort of thing could be within reach of hobbyists. The ideal POC would be a single-container cargo ship that could use solar power to do GPS, telemetry, and sail management. And go transatlantic or transpacific to prove it.

The solarpunk angle, to me, is that solar powered autonomous robo-shipping would be potentially a key part of enabling a 'fully automated luxury space communism' sort of economy within the existing system.
If you can go to any part of the coast, and unload any old shipping container into a DIY robo-boat, and send stuff around the world (medicines? food? books? tools? agri-produce? unassembled robo-boats?), that's very socially enabling.

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@cathal are working on this by reviving an old ship design. Wooden ships also lock up carbon.

@cathal but big container ships are actually super efficient and the easiest gains there are to try and move them onto cleaner fuel I think. International shipping is a huge challenge to regulate, and sail is not reliable for perishable/time-sensitive goods.

@russss Larger ships are still great, but I think there's room "at the bottom" for swarms of smaller vessels. One of the challenges to do this now with traditional boats is:
* Paying people to person the boats
* Paying to fuel all these inefficient little boats
* Little boats can get sunk
If the boats are solar/sail powered, autonomous, and cheap, then these problems don't look so intractable anymore.

@cathal That sounds interesting, but consider how many facets of transport require human maintenance. If maritime transport is scaled down and automated, you’re likely to generate exponentially more pollution, too, as these critters go gazoo or break down. Who would tend and herd them? I’m also unconvinced that large containerization isn’t still more efficient.

What interests me are new large hybrid sail and solar ships. I want to take an ocean liner or bumbly junk around the Horn.

@Shufei I don't see this concept as a replacement for big shipping, really. But large shippers currently generate a ton of waste and pollution: if you start small and show that solar and wind can move things cleanly, it strengthens the case to clean up the bigger ships, too.
And I get that more ships could mean more waste, but I think that needs to be unpacked a bit: current ships drop containers into the sea all the time...

@Shufei ..whereas with a single-container vessel, one can assume that the container and ship are tightly junctioned/locked together, and that they have net buoyancy. So if a ship gets lost or breaks, it could be recovered by another boat or even another drone, but it would take a very bad day for it to end up sunk, I think.
Clearly, this only works for cargo that can tolerate delay or misadventure. Certainly not people. :)

@Shufei Though, as a logistical tool for moving people, there may still be some use: using drones to deliver a steady stream of fresh water and food between ships at-sea, including refugee ships searching for a port, might be a practical and useful thing.
In that sense they could even enable floating cities, which could move around seasonally and still expect a steady stream of logistically lightweight shipping.

@cathal There are good notions here, and I don’t want to discount them out of hand. They would need serious stress testing, though.

I know about the containers going overboard and agree they need work. Merging them with current lifeboat design is obviously useful. I’m still sceptical this won’t just create heaps of more rubbish. But if a standard backup radio distress and retrieval for the lil robots could be made, and mandatory global responsibility for issues, it might indeed work. >

@cathal I think the maritime legalities are nowhere near that responsibility yet. It would be nice if the robonauts would clean up old plastic, too.

Oddly, I thought of floating cities, too. Specifically David Brin, a sci-fi author whose novel Earth features a post-revolutionary floating nation of Swiss refugees. (They got nuked for harbouring capitalists.) Any such arcologies would also need some serious oversight, natch. Right now, they are likely to be extrajudicial corporate tyrannies.

@cathal I’m sure it would be interesting for people to travel in these, though. One person, at least, might pack in enough food, and if some desalination were available. That would be fun, to bumble off to Ireland in a cybercurrach.

@cathal sounds really cool! My only issue with solarpunk is how it often uses minerals that can destroy environments and destroy land of indigenous communities :(

@restioson I don't think it's the use of those minerals that necessitates that harm, but the lack of care taken by rich, foreign-sponsored mining companies. I would imagine it's possible to mine lithium without creating massive mine-tailing pollution, but it's probably less profitable. :(
As to the panels themselves.. I think they're mostly silicon and dopants, so aside from the energy needed to make them, I don't think they create much pollution? Not certain of this.

@cathal maybe. Still iffy on the lithium though. As it stands, solarpunk wouldn't be ethical unless global - but that's the same with all trade currently

@restioson Well, a broader reading of solarpunk would include DIY solar thermal projects, plants, and most stuff under the "Appropriate Technology" header. Arguably these are more impactful by creating a more resilient and decentralised society.
But I'll grant you that the electronics-centric solarpunk will often centre around batteries + disposable electronics, and other people are expected to bear the externalities.
I still would guess that solar panels themselves aren't so bad, though.

@restioson I think there's room for optimism, there. Carbon-based batteries are likely to happen _someday_, and perhaps they'd catch up quickly enough to replace conventional metal batteries.
And, for practical use, there are already battery techs that are very long-lived and use more plentiful/less-damaging/more-recyclable metals:
This battery tech is sadly mostly abandoned, despite being fairly low-tech and probably super easy to maintain/recycle. , IMO.

@restioson ooo, and this one too:–z - These ones might be practical for a DIY solar set-up with the right charge controller, though it would need to be custom as they expect higher voltages and no trickle-charge compared to NiMH/NiCd. But the increased self-discharge would probably not be an issue with a domestic solar set-up, where it gets re-charged every day anyway? Otherwise, they look tough, clean, could be manufactured from existing metal, and recyclable. 🤔

@cathal alternative battery tech is a big one. For big enough use cases we can use hydro storage though.

@cathal I mean efficient/effective sail management would be really hard. But very naive sail management on a ship sacrificing speed for stability sounds quite approachable. A POC of eski-carrying size would be more achievable with fewer resources and could be fun. Keeping away from other boats at near-scale might be hard.

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