Autonomous transatlantic solar powered robot boat project





Scout is an autonomous robotic boat designed to complete the first unmanned transatlantic crossing. The project was started by Tiverton students Dylan Rodriguez and Max Kramers in 2010 with the goal of creating an autonomous craft to make the journey from Rhode Island to Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain


Scout is not the first robot vehicle to cross the Atlantic autonomously, the Seagliders have been doing that for quite a while. But a Seaglider is a gravity powered underwater vessel, not a solar powered surface vessel, so is quite impractical for passengers. The technology change is interesting because it is potentially zero carbon transport which can be developed for cargo, etc. Scout was averaging 41. 6 miles a day [20-9-13], which is 1.73 mph. A fantastic achievement for the team - especially with such a small boat, and note the 4.9 mph velocity on the 27th Sept (34th day). But, check out the most recent statistics using the links below to the official Scout website where you will see that the brave little craft is now in the robotic doldrums [sniff] and we are calling off the search and rescue following. Well done though Scout Team.


Fast forward to 2020, a team comprising Promare, IBM, and many other technology partners, decided to try cross the Atlantic against the prevailing winds and currents. They tried to build a 100ft craft named Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) for launch and an attempt for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers journey starting on the 6th of September 1620.


They never made that date, but did manage to get a hull in the water for the ceremonies in Plymouth, Devon in 2020. On the 15th June 2021, the unmanned craft departed from Plymouth. You can follow the journey on their blog:





Mayflower Autonomous Ship MAS 400 IBM and Promare Atlantic unmanned attempt 15 June 2021



MAS 400 - The fully autonomous trimaran Setting off from Plymouth, England on the 15th June 2021. There are solar panels, that presumably add to the diesel-electric setup. The idea is to be COLREGs compliant with a self learning program, as such vessels build a database. Much the same as with the current bevy of self-driving robotaxis and robotracks. The question is therefore, will ships beat trucks to the autonomous punch?





Scout in no mans land, the robotic doldrums 13 November 2013



Time Elapsed: 81 DAYS: 08 HOURS: 37 MINUTES: 58 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1307.44 MI       Distance to Spain 2109 MI 

Distance traveled by Scout 2595.92             Velocity: 0.7 mph

CURRENT STATUS: N 43° 6’ 9.34” W 45° 38’ 58.67” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 104°



Map of the Atlantic Ocean, Scout Blue Riband attempt



Time Elapsed: 74 DAYS: 04 HOURS: 57 MINUTES: 28 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1271.58 MI       Distance to Spain 2148 MI 

Distance traveled by Scout 5672.65 M         Velocity: 2.04 mph

CURRENT STATUS: N 42° 39’ 20” W 46° 24’ 14.93” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 12°



The autonomous Blue Ribbon attempt 2013



Time Elapsed: 67 DAYS: 00 HOURS: 58 MINUTES: 49 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1344.11 MI      Distance to Spain 2090 MI 
Distance traveled by Scout 2377.07            Velocity: 2.17 mph

CURRENT STATUS: N 41° 26’ 32.65” W 45° 10’ 34.13” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 309°



Scout transatlantic robotic blue riband


23 October 2013 STATS

Time Elapsed:60 DAYS: 04 HOURS: 05 MINUTES: 09 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1382.72 mi      Distance to Spain 2101 mi
Distance traveled by Scout 2198.73 mi       Velocity: 1.28 mph



Click on this picture to see the latest at 58 days



Time Elapsed: 57 DAYS: 06 HOURS: 09 MINUTES: 17 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1353.95 MI     Distance to Spain 2171 MI 

Distance traveled by Scout 2078.85           Velocity: 1.54 mph

CURRENT STATUS: N 37° 52’ 2.62” W 46° 6’ 37.72” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 85°

Map of the North Atlantic Ocean, Scout on a return heading to Florida


14 OCTOBER 2013 STATS  (Snoopy Sloop UK Microtransat was re-launched 11-10-13)

Time Elapsed: 51 DAYS: 07 HOURS: 12 MINUTES: 00 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1242.57 mi      Distance to Spain 2242 mi
Distance traveled by Scout 1918.55 mi       Velocity: 1.43 mph


CURRENT STATUS: N 39° 13’ 20.07” W 47° 44’ 30.24” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 255°


 Atlantic Ocean scout map location - Blue Riband



Time Elapsed: 46 DAYS: 04 HOURS: 27 MINUTES: 28 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1307.15 MI      Distance to Spain 2146 MI 

Distance traveled by Scout 1750.37            Velocity 1.5 mph 

CURRENT STATUS: N 40° 27’ 4.39” W 46° 7’ 33.18” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 151°


The Atlantic Ocean showing Scout's course correction



Time Elapsed: 41 DAYS: 08 HOURS: 03 MINUTES: 216 SECONDS
Distance from Rhode Island 1127.84 mi    Distance to Spain 2306 mi 
Distance traveled by Scout 1545.78 mi     Velocity 0 mi hr


CURRENT STATUS: N 41° 33’ 1.52” W 49° 22’ 10.4” Compass 0° Waypoint 0° CoG 109°



The big pond - On these maps it looks like Scout has traveled more than a third of the way, but on reading the figures you will notice that there is more than twice the distance to Spain, than to Rhode Island. You may also notice from the above that to travel 971 miles from Rhode Island, that Scout has sailed 1318 miles. This means that for every mile toward her destination, Scout is traveling 1.35 x the route as the crow flies. Most boats deviate to avoid storms, or in the case of sailing boats, to try and find favorable winds. Notice also the significant course correction/deviation from the 37th day, crossing the famous sinking of the Titanic on the 40th day.



LAUNCHES - If at first you don't succeed - after several iterations:


1. Scout's first transatlantic attempt was launched from Sakonnet Point on June 29, 2013 but unfavourable weather conditioned forced the team to recover the craft the same day.


2. A second launch was made July 4, 2013 but after two days a technical failure forced another recovery effort and a redesign of parts of the vessel. 


3. The third attempt was launched during the early morning of August 24, 2013 and is currently in progress but has already earned the record for distance of an unmanned Atlantic naval voyage.


CONCEPT - Unlike the many contestants in the Microtransat (MT) competition, Scout is powered by solar panels, not sails. Other than that, the idea is the same; to get across the Atlantic autonomously and they are using similar gps, tracking and computer equipment as many of the MT teams seem to favour.


Scout started out as a Kickstarter project, soon to be sponsored by many supporters, mainly because the team seem to have a handle on what they are doing and it is a brilliant idea, setting both Atlantic (and world) records when things come together. We will be looking at the design of boats in general, during the coverage of this project - and comparing with other robotic developments.


Key to robotic phases during the expedition

Key to phases of robotic operation





Scout is based on a custom carbon fiber hull with a Divinycell foam core and measures 12.8 feet long, by 25 inches wide and weighs 160 pounds. The vessel design incorporates a bulb keel to right the craft in heavy seas, and propulsion is provided by an electric trolling motor powered by a bank of solar-charged lithium iron phosphate batteries. On-board control and navigation is provided by two Arduino microcontrollers and a GPS receiver, and telemetry data is sent back to the team using the Iridium satellite constellation and provided live on the World Wide Web.


HULL SPECS - We are not sure what the exact mass of the vessel is (starting at around 140lbs, now 160lbs), nor the exact size of the solar panels, so can only guess on these, and as a mono-hull at around 13 x 2 feet, she is going to be bouncing around all over the place (riding up and down waves) according to the LWL rule, making wave drag very high - in the process reducing average speed. In theory the hull presents to a calm sea a narrow canoe shape, so should be efficient. In practice, the hull flare is being wetted as she climbs then descends wave troughs, slowing her down. See the Youtube of a SWASH hull running straight in waves and compare that to Robotboat MKVI which is also bouncing considerably. That kind of technology is not practical at this scale and budget. The Scout team chose a rugged compromise, which given the task ahead was wise.


The route is roughly 3,473 miles. The boat is doing a lot of course correction (searching) according to the tracking maps. We do not know if this is because of any directional instability in the hull design from wave encounters, or maybe the algorithm for the steering is not frequent enough to steer a true course - possibly due to power saving, computing speeds or satcoms intervals. Who knows? We doubt computing speeds with dual Arduinos. Ultimately, the Scout's systems will be working harder at this size than on say, a 100 footer. The longer a boat, the easier it is to steer a straight course.


By climbing and surfing waves, the effective course length is increased. The zig, zag headings are also increasing the effective course length. It is no wonder then that all of the small scale autonomous Atlantic attempts so far have come a cropper.


POWER CALCS - Guessing about the panels from pictures, it looks like they have about 1.6 m2 of panel area, that should provide around 230watts @ 17% efficiency. Then at 140lbs, the power to weight ratio is 3.7kW/ton. Or @ 200watts that is 3.2kW/ton. Either way that is three times the power to weight ratio of PlanetSolar, which manages 5 knots from its two canoe shaped hulls (shape presented to the sea) at under 1kW/ton using a large battery to even out loads for overnight running, etc. Size matters, but we must  conclude that the motor/propeller setup on the Scout is far from ideal in converting electrical energy to thrust, and of course that long fin generates quite a bit of resistance from its surface area - but is a necessary evil. The design is though solid and light for which the team builders must be rightly proud. [We've just heard that Scout has two 65w panels, 1 30w panel, and 1 55w panel giving 215 watts overall]


The estimates for hull speed were between 2-4 mph. The average speed (geographic distance) at time of writing is 1.96 (14-09-2013) miles per hour, up from the previous 1.75 miles per hour. If Scout can keep that up she will complete her mission in 83 days. A speed of 1.8 mph will reduce that to 80.4 days and 1.85 mph will take the journey down to 78 days. So, conservatively, were looking at a record crossing in the region of 80-90 days. PlanetSolar did a shorter route in 22 days in August 2013 with a more efficient hull/propulsion setup, but that boat is manned. Mind you, if PlanetSolar were to be fitted with robotic navigation equipment, it would trounce a small boat like Scout. It is though, 'first-come-first-served' and Scout is the autonomous record holder.





TELEMETRY - Telemetry information is relayed via Iridium 9612 every hour. Scout uses two Arduino micro computers; one to navigate and one to communicate via an Iridium transceiver. Dylan and Ryan worked on programming and electronics. We are not sure if Scout has a compass onboard. If not, that might help improve course keeping in between gps signaling delays, something that Robin Lovelock was considering for his Snoopy Sloop. The base programming for Scout took 14 days with both engineers working for 15 hours a day while imbibing a serious quantity of energy drinks. Stay off the sauce lads :)



Planetsolar docked alongside a traditional sailing boat


Old and New - PlanetSolar docked alongside a traditional sailing boat. Imagine what the Scout team could do with a boat this size!




In May of 2012, the PlanetSolar completed the first solar powered circumnavigation. At about that time a world autonomous navigation was proposed by the SolarNavigator team, also using a solar powered platform. Then in August 2013 PlanetSolar set the fastest solar record across the Atlantic, at 22 days.


Now, these guys are developing the same theme on a micro budget, sowing the building blocks for what is bound to happen eventually, but not without some serious effort on the part of those involved. Scout is a truly inspired project, with young engineering pioneers leading the way - despite all the usual glitches and gremlins.


Scout was launched on August 24 and the small craft has already smashed the record for distance traveled by an autonomous transatlantic vessel. They beat a previous record of about 60 miles set by a team from Aberystwyth University in the 2010 Microtransat Challenge.


It all started back in 2010 when a group of college students started working on an unmanned robotic motor boat that could cross the Atlantic from Rhode Island to Spain. They wanted to go one better than Roboboat, because a robotic boat that motors around a pond or lake is cool, but a boat that can cross the ocean is an inspiration to everyone, extending the challenge out onto open water. Roboboats (the competition), is more to do with battery powered robot boats avoiding obstacles. They are not concerned with autonomy - as in the energy to move the vessel, simply collision avoidance - and improving that ability on a low budget, which is of course commendable.



The crew consists of Dylan Rodriguez (engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Dan Flanigan (civil engineering, Bucknell University), Max Kramers (mechanical engineering, University of Rhode Island), Ken Muller (mechanical engineering, Worcester Polytechnic), Brendan Prior (liberal studies, Endicott College), Mike Flanigan (aerospace engineering, Notre Dame), and David Pimental (computer science, Northeastern).

They started construction in April 2012. Initially the crew wanted the solar-powered vessel to begin its journey earlier in the summer, to take maximum advantage of long sunny days. They were ready to launch from a point on Rhode Island on June 29, and made their first attempt. Bad weather prevented Scout from being able to collect enough power during the day to make it out to sea. Rather than risk the craft being washed up on shore, the crew rescued Scout for a better weather window.

A second attempt was foiled due to a faulty rudder servo. If you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Scout was successfully launched on the third attempt in the wee hours of Saturday morning on Aug. 24.






"Scout" is a robotic boat designed to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach Spain - a small boat on a big journey.

Scout, a [then] nearly eight [now 13] foot long carbon fiber boat, is slated to begin its transatlantic journey to Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain in the beginning of June. Designed and built by four friends, Scout has significant navigation capabilities as well as robust systems enabling it to travel on its journey completely autonomously.

The goal of this project is to send an autonomous boat across the Atlantic Ocean. If successful, it will be the first such craft to do so. The closest publicized attempt was that of the Pinta- a sailboat which traveled 400 miles on its journey before it stopped transmitting its position.

Scout’s hull is a foam core covered with carbon fiber. The electronics are, for the most part, assembled and working, the microcontrollers are programmed and ready to go. The power system has yet to be completed with the addition of solar panels and batteries. Care is being taken in designing and programming these systems as they will have to endure the roughest of conditions for weeks on end without human intervention.

The electronic systems on Scout are straightforward but advanced. The onboard batteries are capable of running all of Scout’s systems at full power for at least twenty five hours. Satellite tracking is provided by a SPOT tracker and powered by enough lithium batteries to transmit for a number of months. It'll be track-able on their website.

If the boat temporarily loses the GPS fix, it will trigger software that uses an onboard digital compass and data previously collected from the GPS to approximate its position. The keel has even been designed to shed seaweed and other debris that would slow the boat. The forethought that has gone into these systems is significant and we look forward to testing them as the project moves along.

Costs have been accumulating and for us to complete this project and send it on its journey, we'll need to raise about two thousand and five hundred dollars. With this money, we'll be able to cover the costs of this groundbreaking project and put more of our focus on the project itself.

We're more than just a team of friends working towards a common goal- we are making use of some fantastic resources available to us including world famous marine engineers and designers, offshore sailors and navigators, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and the resources of our respective colleges.

Scout is a very exciting, very ambitious project that we have made significant progress on so far. We have reached the point where we can affirm that it will be fully capable of what we have set out to do. We need supporters, both big and small, to support the construction of Scout; a boat that may be the first ever surface vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean without any outside assistance.

Make sure to visit the website at





FUNDING PERIOD: Mar 30, 2011 - May 9, 2011 (40 days) - RESULT: 73 Backers contributed $3,424
against a $2,500 goal = $924 dollars generously oversubscribed. FUNDED! This project successfully raised its funding goal on May 9, 2011.



Pledge $1 or more - 9 backers

Your name on the Scout Transatlanic website- on the "donors" page.

Pledge $5 or more - 13 backers

Your name and URL on the website.

Pledge $10 or more - 5 backers

The above, plus we'll send you a postcard, along with some stickers, for sticking onto things!


Pledge $25 or more - 0 backers

The above, plus Ricky will make you a sketch using a dremel on a piece of steel, and send it to you in the mail.

Pledge $30 or more - 18 backers

The above (metal etching included), plus we'll print your name on Scout's carbon fiber and Kevlar hull, and send you pictures of it in the mail! (they'll be on the website too, for everyone to see)

Pledge $50 or more - 6 backers

The above, plus four of our favorite photos of the project mailed to you as 8"x10"s.

Pledge $70 or more - 1 backer

We'll send you a poster- either a map of Scout's electronic systems, or a poster with pictures, renderings, and the sketches that we used to build the boat. Your choice.

Pledge $100 or more - 13 backers

We'll send you all of the above plus a larger spot on the boat for your name, and a spot for you on our homepage as a sign of our thanks.

Pledge $200 or more - 3 backers

The above, plus a scale display model of the hull mounted on a wooden base and a mailed CD and digital copy of a song that our musically-inclined friends will make just for you!










The Chew family Jean-François Denorus
Mitch Pascoe William Toth
Pam and Wayne Karzenski The Tiverton Yacht Club
Andy "BOOOAT" Quitmeyer Overflow Cafe
Asif Zamir Jason DiVenere
Daniel Underwood Deb Blair
Octo23 Technologies Bradd A. Olund
Borut Kumperščak Wendy
Greg and Sue Knorr Cathy Knorr
Mike Desousa Allan Prior
Susan Rodriguez Blake Guthrie
David G. Ryan Geoff Purdie
James Scriven Buddi Louise
Schwesternuhr Gustav Evertsson
Aaron Ceraldi Laurens Laudowicz
Derek Boggs Rosalie Bartlett (@Rosalieinc)
Freecell Marc Freilich
Marlin Schrock Jan Benedek Smartbetting
Regis M. Donovan Stephen Charlesworth
Haary W Mark Chollett
Mark A Heywood FreeDrman Murray
Benjamin Lyon Chuck Weiss
Keith Collins Chad and Naomi Sircy
Larry Fine Kris Beaudoin
Cristian Marco Machado Marilyn McConaghy
Bruce Contryman Jonathan McAuliffe
Julian Gall Melody Brinkley & Family :o)
Daniel K. Savage James H Thompson
Deborah Petti Casey Carole Connolly
The Mangiaratti family Peter P. Breitenthaler
Dan Brendan McNally
Brian Palmer Patty Prior
Karen Corr Judy Sanford
Sue and Dirk Kramers Tova Lilia Ibbotson
Victor Valore Claire Ozorio
Rudy Fink The Andrades of Winnisimet
Anson & Chandler Joseph A. Boivin O.D., Ltd.
Keith & Cathy Rolland Jon Bennett
John Foley Luba Flanigan
Susan Petti Dirty D
Molly & Maurice Prior Jonathan Carter
Martin Donlon Alex Casiopo
Emalie Prior Sara Butler



Jamestown Distributors: Go Scout! 800 mile autonomous record celebration.


Jamestown Distributors: Go Scout! 800 mile autonomous record celebration.





They tried to design around every risk they could imagine. Where many teams would use an off the shelf hull, they designed their own to be strong, reinforced with several sturdy bulkheads. A weighted keel will right the boat if it should capsize at some cost in drag terms. The boat is as water tight as they could make it, but it is also equipped with bilge pumps.


They maximized the number of solar panels for a mono-hull by removing the aluminum frames and tilted the deck to face south to harness more of the sun's energy. When power is low, Scout enters a low power drift mode to save batteries. One Arduino Mega microcontroller is devoted to navigation, and a second Mega handles sensors and communications through the Iridium satellite transceiver. The software is reset every 12 hours to avoid pesky memory leaks or corruption from long term use. Why though does that happen?

The route was planned to cross shipping lanes at right angles, minimizing chances of a collision. They planned to take Scout south into the Gulf Stream and cross the Atlantic as quickly as possible. The longer the voyage takes, the more chances there are that something will go wrong.

The crew worked hard to test the system, but Gremlins did manage to spanner the works. The Scout team included code to avoid having to backtrack to a waypoint that it had floated past while in drift mode. But instead of that, their code caused Scout to bypass most of its planned waypoints. The crew analyzed the error and believe they understand what happened. They think that Scout is now (8-9-13) navigating to waypoint 44, near the coast of Spain. Once Scout reaches that waypoint, it should continue normally through the last sixteen or so waypoints to the shores of Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain, where Christopher Columbus began his second journey to the New World.

These guys built Scout because they wanted to, and they haven’t let anything stop them. Early on, one of the schools denied their request for lab space for the project. Due to legal concerns, the school said. Rejection did not deter them. They did their own research and consulted with a family friend with experience in marine law and decided to proceed.




Solar Voyager is an autonomous robotic boat


SOLAR VOYAGER - Two hefty PV panels are low in the water so will get a dousing routinely, but should stay clean enough for the crossing. This has not been a problem for the Autonaut. The concept is similar to the SeaCharger below and the Scout seen on this page, but that the Scout attempted to set the Atlantic unmanned record in 2013, whereas the Solar Voyager made her attempt in 2016.



The solar powered autonomous boat SeaCharger


SEACHARGER SOLAR BOAT - Being recovered by a passing ship at sea, this boat is very similar in concept to the Solar Voyager above but attempted to travel across the Pacific to set a record for unmanned endurance boats in 2017. The SeaCharger made it from California to Hawaii, but came a cropper near to New Zealand. Valliant attempts all and there is always room for one more....



COLLISION AVOIDANCE - When asked about the legal aspect of COLREGs the Scout team quoted from the website:

Q: Do the boats have to include any kind of autonomous collision-avoidance system to prevent collision with other floating objects?

A: No you don't have to. The International Rules for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLGREGs) define a vessel as carrying passengers or cargo, it is our understanding that this doesn't class an autonomous boat as a vessel and therefore exempts it from these rules. There is no current legal status for autonomous boats, from what we can tell in speaking to the IMO and both the UK and French coastguards it would be classed as a buoy not a vessel. By keeping the boats length at 4 metres most vessels wouldn't even realise a collision had taken place. Additionally we recommend each competitor carry a radar reflector, make their boat highly visible and have clear warnings that it is unmanned. Competitors are free to implement collision avoidance if they wish (but are not required to by the rules) and to make use of technologies such as RADAR or AIS (Automatic Identification System).



The above echoes their thinking for this project. They say that no collision avoidance system would be feasible for them to use, and the tiny chances of encountering another vessel make this something that they don't need to worry about, presumably because at 13 feet and 140 pounds, the vessel presents to real danger to other boats, that would just brush Scout aside.

THE FINAL BILL - Scout ended up costing about $6,000 to build, about 50% of which came from Kickstarter. That’s not a huge sum of money when compared to other similar projects, but quite an obstacle if you don’t have help. The crew has been very happy with their major sponsor, Jamestown Distributors, a family operated marine and building supply business. And as you can see from the list of individual contributors above, many have donated money to the project, or just cheered for the crew via their Facebook page.





Scout Video




The Microtransat Challenge:
The 2013 Microtransat Map - the French École Navale boat on it's way

The Microtransat Challenge for competition details
The 2012 Microtransat Map for Snoopy and the French

SPOT Track from the Mail Online - busy shipping lanes
UK Winds , Sailflow Winds , Met Office Rain & Wind

World Sea conditions, Temperatures & Sunshine or for expected wave heights

Scout on Facebook

Scout autonomous transatlantic boat

Scout autonomous_boat

Pete Danko (July 10, 2013). "'Scout,' Robotic Solar Boat, On Transatlantic Voyage Thanks To Group Of College Students". The Huffington Post.

Bruce Burdett (June 4, 2013). "From Tiverton — A slow boat to Spain". EastBayRI.

Richard Salit (July 10, 2013). "Student designers end boat's second bid to cross from RI to Spain". The Providence Journal.

Richard Salit (August 24, 2013). "Autonomous vessel Scout makes 3rd transatlantic bid". The Providence Journal.

"Students build unmanned boat that's crossing the Atlantic right now". MSN. August 31, 2013.

Richard Salit (June 2, 2013). "R.I. sailing buddies build solar-powered robot boat for trip to Spain". The Providence Journal.

"The Build".

Engineering Robotic-Boat Attempts Atlantic Crossing








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Learn about the basics of boat design using the links below - and enjoy experimenting yourself.


Blackcurrant 1  |  Blackcurrant 2  |  CatamaranHull Design  |  Drag  |  SWASH  |  SWATH  |  Trimaran










Giant catamaran hull could be the next Scout Recon


RECON - Could this be the new Scout for 2015 or 2016? We'll just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed that the chaps manage to secure funding for their latest solar powered boat design.




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