Entries Tagged 'Research' ↓

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle competition

San Diego is the home to an elaborate research facility run by the U.S. Navy. Known as the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, it sponsors a yearly contest for university students. The challenge? Build a robot that can travel underwater and, without any human control, perform a series of tasks (a pipeline inspection, for example) within a given time limit.

Each year, teams of undergraduates come from around the world to showcase their designs for an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, as they are called. The idea is to get students interested in the field of unmanned robotics and teach them what it’s like to be involved in a start-up venture. (Each team must provide its own funding for the contest.)

I had only learned about this AUV contest recently, even though I actually visited the center about two years ago. (My research group had been holding talks with the scientists there to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a project.) Because robotics is a field I’m increasingly interested in, I decided to visit the center on the last day of the contest, when the finals were being held, to see what it was all about and maybe catch a glimpse of some cool bots.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see. Most of the action was hidden in the depths of this large murky pool.

Spectators watch the competition from the shore

Here’s a wide shot so you can get a feel for the size of the pool. On the left, you can see the large orange crane that was used for lowering the AUVs into the water.

The giant pool where the comptetion took place

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much to look at. Even when an AUV was making a run, you couldn’t see what was going on, so it was kind of boring for spectators. Of course, the participants not lucky enough to make it to the finals didn’t have much to do, either. (I saw one team in a tent in the back playing cards with each other.)

Perhaps the most interesting moments were when a robot failed and had to be returned manually by the two divers shown here. A common occurrence, strangely enough, was that a robot would be released and then suddenly sink right to the bottom! I wasn’t sure if this was due to buoyancy problems or software problems.

Divers tow an AUV back to the starting gate

All in all, I was glad I was able to witness the event, even though I didn’t stay long. I spent the rest of the day with my wife at San Diego’s other watery attraction.

Later, I found out from Slashdot that the University of Florida came away with the win.