Launch the Robosubs!

Student-built autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) navigated through Space and Naval Warfare System Center Pacific’s (SSC Pacific’s) Transducer Evaluation Center (TRANSDEC) research pool during the 17th annual RoboSub Competition in San Diego, Calif.

RoboSub, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation, provided the opportunity for 38 teams to advance their knowledge and experience with AUVs in an underwater environment conducting realistic missions.

The TRANSDEC pool, is a one-of-a-kind  facility that simulates an ocean of water and provides ideal conditions for  the ROBOSUB competition at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific  (photo by Alan Antczak/released)

The TRANSDEC pool, is a one-of-a-kind
facility that simulates an ocean of water and provides ideal conditions for
the ROBOSUB competition at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (photo by Alan Antczak/released)

SSC Pacific’s TRANSDEC pool offers a unique environment for students to learn first-hand about the challenges of applying science in the real world. It is a process Navy scientists and engineers experience throughout their careers, to help ensure service members have the best available tools to complete their operational missions.

“SSC Pacific has hosted this competition for the past 13 years and it’s wonderful to see the students here again, testing their ingenuity and knowledge,” said Capt. Kurt Rothenhaus, SSC Pacific Commanding Officer.

“SSC Pacific is committed to inspiring future generations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and it’s been great to speak with so many of the teams and see their motivation and enthusiasm.”

The number of teams participating at this event has been increasing in recent years. High school and college students from Canada, China, Egypt, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and the United States traveled to San Diego to compete at RoboSub.

The goal of this year’s mission was for an AUV to demonstrate its autonomy by completing an underwater TRANSDEC 17 moon mission.

Each vehicle was required to:

  • Stop and interact with the control panel (dock/interact with buoys)
  • Complete a maneuvering task (pass over/ around an obstacle)
  • Reroute power (manipulate pegs on a board)
  • Choose a landing site (drop markers)
  • “Invite aliens to brunch” (fire torpedoes through a cutout), and
  • Collect samples from the moon (find a pinger, grab an object and release the object)

Most of the teams began preparing almost a year in advance, either through actual courses dedicated to building autonomous vehicles or extracurricular clubs.

“We were looking for a robotics challenge that incorporated mechanical engineering, autonomy and water. RoboSub fit that bill,” said Justin Koch, a student majoring in mechanical engineering at California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

The team from the University of Alberta (ARVP), Edmonton, Canada, work to get their vehicle ready to launch at the 17th Annual International RoboSub Competition at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.  (Photo by Alan Antczak Released)

The team from the University of Alberta (ARVP), Edmonton, Canada, work to get their vehicle ready to launch at the 17th Annual International RoboSub Competition at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.
(Photo by Alan Antczak Released)

“This is our first year competing at this event and our goal was to make it to the semi-finals. We’ve really enjoyed the process of building our vehicle, testing it in the TRANSDEC pool, and speaking with the other student teams. Our primary goal for this first year was to just make it through semi-finals, but we hope to be a very strong competitor when we return next year.”

Caltech received the “Best New Entry” award and a monetary prize of $500.

The AUVSI Foundation’s student competitions emphasize learning and outreach. RoboSub and similar events are not grand challenges designed explicitly to progress state-of-the-art robotics.

U.S. Navy Diver 2nd Class  Madison Farruggia, helps Virginia Tech launch their sub 'Mako" for a test run in Transdeck pool in prep for the Robosub competition.  More than thirty teams from the U.S., Canada, India, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan, Sweden, and Iceland participated in the event. (photo by Alan Antczak/released)

U.S. Navy Diver 2nd Class Madison Farruggia, helps Virginia Tech launch their sub ‘Mako” for a test run in Transdeck pool in prep for the Robosub competition. More than thirty teams from the U.S., Canada, India, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan, Sweden, and Iceland participated in the event. (photo by Alan Antczak/released)

The objective is to help develop the scientists and engineers who will push the envelope in the future. Although major innovations may be discovered in these events, this is not the objective.

Most important are gaining an appreciation for the trade-offs inherent in any systems design and the lessons learned in transitioning from a working bench prototype to operating reliably in the real world.

The top five finishers in the 2014 competition demonstrate the international nature of this competition. The teams, in order, are Cornell University, the University of Florida, Ecole Technologie Superieure (Canada), Far Eastern Federal University (The Russian Federation) and the National University of Singapore. Winning teams took home a monetary prize.

By Ashley Nekoui, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific Public Affairs
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