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16th International RoboSub Competition Held in San Diego

Posted July 30, 2013

Student-built autonomous underwater vehicles sped through the depths of a Navy pool in a battle for supremacy at the 16th International RoboSub Competition.

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

Several ONR program officers were at the competition, serving as mentors and judges to the high school and college-age competitors.

“This is one of those science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach activities that we sponsor that’s very connected to the naval workforce,” said Kelly Cooper, a program officer in ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons department. “Our goal is to help students arrive at college prepared for the math, science, electronics, computer and engineering courses that they need to be able to compete at a high level in autonomous vehicle competitions.”

Over the 16 years that RoboSub has been in existence, the number of teams and level of competition have steadily increased. This year, 32 teams from the U.S. and around the world were registered.

The mission for this year’s competition, “License to Dive,” includes six primary tasks:

  • Traffic lights-Two buoys equipped with red, green and blue light-emitting diode lights will be cycling through the colors every five seconds; to stop the cycling, submarines must bump the buoy itself. The goal is to stop the lights on each buoy on a predetermined color selected the morning of competition.
  • Parking-Submarines must park within a marked rectangular spot with two raised sides.
  • Speed trap-Vehicles will have to get two markers into bins of their choice floating 1 to 2 feet off the pool’s bottom.
  • Toll booth-Submarines must fire foam torpedoes through a hexagonal cutout color wheel, aiming to get one torpedo through each of the six colored holes.
  • Driving-Vehicles must rotate a PVC pipe mock steering wheel more than 360 degrees and move a gear shift from one position to another.
  • Pizza delivery-Submarines must deliver two PVC pipe mock pizza boxes to a centralized, specified location.

In addition to building autonomous underwater vehicles, teams are also responsible for creating websites and writing journal papers that outline their work.

This year, spectators are able to follow along with the racers’ every move by watching the action on new 40-foot projection screens that will be mounted in a special viewing area. “People are always really excited to see the students and their submarines perform,” Cooper said.

This competition is meant to be a natural extension of SeaPerch, an ONR-funded program through which students learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by building an underwater remotely operated vehicle.

“We’re connecting our support of RoboBoat to our investment in SeaPerch,” Cooper said. “If you do SeaPerch, then you may want to consider competing at a higher level in the autonomous vehicle and robotics competitions, and if you really like that, you may want to consider a career path for the Navy that utilizes the things that you’ve been doing since you were in fifth grade.”

The competition will be live-streamed to the RoboSub website here.
Visitors also can watch videos from last year’s competition.

By Katherine H. Crawford,

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