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Students Push Ocean Robotics Envelope in New Global Game

Posted October 21, 2014

130813-N-PO203-305College students from around the world will have a hand in shaping the future of ocean robotics as they compete in the first Maritime RobotX Challenge, which kicks off this week in Singapore.

Fifteen teams from five countries and three continents have journeyed to Marina Bay for the Oct. 24-26 event, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation, the National University of Singapore Faculty of Engineering, and Science Centre Singapore.

More than 5,000 visitors are expected over the course of the three-day event, which features teams from the United States, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea. The students, representing some of the top engineering universities in the world, will compete to see who can turn an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) into the most effective autonomous system, able to accomplish mission-related tasks without the aid of remote control.

“Developing autonomy for surface vessels is still in its early stages, and these students have the opportunity to come up with solutions that could set new standards in this field,” said Assistant Chief of Naval Research Capt. Rob Palisin, who will help judge the competition. “In turn, the Navy gets the chance to observe the best young engineers in action and learn from their approaches.”

Each team in Singapore have been given an identical USV—an unpowered version of the 16-foot Wave Adaptive Modular Vehicle—and have worked to add sensors, software and other technology that will allow the vehicle to think and move on its own.

Teams will have to successfully complete tasks to demonstrate autonomous navigation and control; obstacle detection and avoidance; docking and target identification; underwater search for an acoustic source; and observation, identification and reporting of a specified target.

The event’s location and participating countries underscore the U.S. Navy’s commitment—as laid out in the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan—to increasing its presence and strengthening partnerships in the Pacific region. The competition also reflects the Navy’s vision to employ greater autonomy in its unmanned systems.

The biennial event aims to strengthen students’ knowledge in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), enhancing skills the United States will need as the current generation of naval scientists and engineers reaches retirement age.

“These students represent the next generation,” said Kelly Cooper, ONR program officer. “Competitions like this create that pipeline of young people interested in robotics, autonomy and other areas that are critical for the Navy and nation as a whole.”

The three U.S. teams are made up of students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Atlantic University/Villanova and Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Olin College. Along with the international teams, they will be competing for $100,000 in prize money.

A Science and Technology Showcase featuring hands-on activities for students and attendees is being held at the same time as the competition.

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Source: ONR

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