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CHIPS Articles: Students Race Robot Submarines in 'Back to the Future'-Themed Competition

Students Race Robot Submarines in 'Back to the Future'-Themed Competition
By Sierra Jones, ONR Corporate Strategic Communications - July 29, 2015
ARLINGTON, Va.— High school and college engineering students from across the globe competed for bragging rights and cash prizes at the 18th International RoboSub Competition, which wrapped up July 26.

The week-long competition, co-sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International Foundation (AUVSIF), was held in San Diego at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific Transducer Evaluation Center (TRANSDEC) pool.

The TRANSDEC pool is a unique facility that simulates a large body of water—it measures 300 by 200 feet and is 38 feet deep with six million gallons of water—and provides RoboSub participants an ideal environment for navigating their autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) through realistic missions.

“These teams of students have been working on these subs for months and here they’ll turn their prototypes into working vehicles capable of operating in a real-world environment,” said Assistant Chief of Naval Research Capt. Rob Palisin. “Through this entire process, they’ve gained valuable experience in maritime and system engineering. Someday we would love for them to put what they’ve learned into action to help our Sailors and Marines.”

Palisin explained that as unmanned and autonomous technologies advance, our warfighters will ultimately become beneficiaries of the capabilities these new systems will bring to the fight. ONR-sponsored programs like Low Cost UAV Swarming Technology and Autonomous Swarmboats show what is possible as researchers work to reduce risk to Sailors and Marines while extending air, surface, underwater and ground vehicle capabilities at lower costs than existing manned systems.

"Unmanned systems are being integrated into many aspects of everyday life," said Dr. Daniel Deitz, a program officer in ONR's Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department. "We can continue to advance the science of autonomous vehicles by challenging these next generations of engineers to contribute great ideas and innovative concepts — that's what this competition is all about.”

Palisin and Deitz were two of several current and past ONR program officers and leaders at the competition, serving as judges and mentors to the competitors.

The mission theme for this year’s contest played on the theme of the “Back to the Future,” movie trilogy. The individual AUVs had to navigate and complete an obstacle course — with tasks like “check the flux capacitor” and “travel through the time portal”— without human or computer interaction by team members.

Missions ranged from simple tasks like touching colored buoys, passing over a PVC pipe without touching it and dropping markers into a bin, to complex tasks like firing mock torpedoes through a cutout in a piece of plywood, identifying sound from an acoustic pinger, grabbing and moving an object and surfacing the AUV.

Since its inception 18 years ago, RoboSub has seen the number of teams and levels of competition grow. This year’s 37 teams hailed from 10 U.S. states and various countries, including Canada, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand and Turkey.

San Diego State University took this year’s top prize of $6,000. National University of Singapore won second prize and $4,000; Maritime State University placed third for $3,000; earning $1,000 each were California Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, Far Eastern Federal University and Amador Valley High School, which placed fourth to seventh, respectively.

Smaller awards of $500 in various special judge award categories went to San Diego Robotics, Southern Polytechnic State University, Carl Hayden High School, Montana State University, Amador Valley High School and McGill University.

Sierra Jones is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research 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, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

Photo courtesy of ONR.
Photo courtesy of ONR.
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