The Office of Naval Research in conjunction with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International sponsored the 15th annual RoboSub competition hosted at the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Transducer Evaluation Center in San Diego, July 17-22.
The competition brought together 28 teams of students from 10 countries to compete in an underwater obstacle course using autonomous underwater vehicles that the teams designed.
The goal of the competition, according to the AUVSI website, was to advance the development of autonomous underwater vehicles by challenging a new generation of engineers to perform realistic missions in an underwater environment. The event also served to foster ties between young engineers and the organizations developing AUV technologies.
There were teams from the United States, Spain, China, India, Turkey, Japan, Sweden, Iceland, Canada and – for the first time – a team from the Russian Federation.
“This year has been a pretty good year, internationally,” said David Novick, Technical Director for AUVSI.
The teams gathered at the pool daily to test their vehicles before their turn on the obstacle course.
“The complexity of these submarines is such that, if 99 percent of it works right, you still have that 1 percent that could ruin the whole thing,” said Daryl Davidson, executive director of AUVSI.
The students worked for months designing and testing the machines before arriving at the competition.
“It’s all autonomous, so the most they can do after they put it in the water is cross their fingers,” said Novick. “There are obstacles that they have to pass over. There’s bins where they can drop markers into, and then, finally, they have a couple of octagons where there are acoustic pingers. They can hone in on the pingers and there’s an object – this year it’s a laurel wreath PVC structure – that they have to retrieve and take to the surface.”
The competition was the culmination of long hours of work for the students.
“It’s always really exciting because, during the school year, we work really hard on this. Then, when we come here, we get to see a lot of other people who are interested in the same things that we are interested in,” said Leah Gum, a student at the University of Southern California. “So not only is there that cool spirit of competition of everyone trying to do the best that they can with their vehicle, but also collaboration because everyone wants to see this field advance further.”
At this year’s event Cornell University came out on top, with the University of Florida placing second. Team SONIA, a Canadian team from Ã‰cole de Technologie SupÃ©rieure took third, the Chinese Harbin Engineering University placed fourth and, first-time competitors, Far Eastern Federal University from the Russian Federation took fifth. A prize of $20,000 was split between the winning teams.
The Department of the Navy’s ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 30 countries and 1,035 institutions of higher learning.
AUVSI, established in 1972, is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the unmanned systems and robotics industry through communication, education and leadership.
The Navy’s TRANSDEC pool was built in 1964 and simulates a large body of water, free of echoes, which allows for optimal research conditions.