URI engineering students win International RoboBoat Competition

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Students designed, raced robotic boats through aquatic obstacle course

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 27, 2011 — A team of engineering students at the University of Rhode Island has captured the 2011 International RoboBoat Competition, a contest to design a robotic boat that can race through an aquatic obstacle course without any human controls.

Sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and held in Virginia Beach, Va., the URI students defeated 14 teams from as far away as Taiwan and Indonesia. The University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Stevens Institute rounded out the top five.

According to Ocean Engineering Professor Robert Tyce, who served as the team’s coach, the competition required the student-designed boats to autonomously navigate a series of buoys, turn off a waterfall, identify which of several targets was “on fire”, put out the fire with a water cannon, and pick up a tennis ball off a dock before returning home. The URI boat design included a computer camera, scanning laser range finder, infrared thermal sensor, precision GPS, water cannon, extendable arm with ball grabber, twin trolling motor propulsion system, custom power systems, along with several embedded microcontroller and PC computers programmed by the students.

“Other teams navigated the buoy channel better than us, but none of them even attempted any of the other tasks,” said Hayden Radke, an ocean engineering major from Saunderstown. “We preferred to try and fail rather than not try at all. This concept didn’t seem to occur to the other teams.”

Added graduate student Andrew Bird of Lichfield, England: “Other teams went for the safest option, whereas we went for the more difficult path, and it paid off.”

URI has entered the competition each of the last three years and placed in the top five every time. A URI team also enters a similar contest to design a robotic submarine, which it won in its first try in 2000. This year’s submarine competition, which will involve the same 20 URI students as won the Roboboat contest, takes place in July.

“This experience has led to a number of job offers for team members, interest from instrument manufacturers to install their products on our boat, and the funding to go to the autonomous underwater vehicle competition in San Diego later this year,” said graduate student Edward Richards of Providence. “It has also led to a number of new contacts within the robotics community and tighter relations among team members.”

Sponsors of the URI team were Raytheon, Battelle, Trimble/Pacific Crest, Dane Tech, The Mathworks, Ocean Server, the URI Ocean Engineering Department, the URI Center of Excellence in Underwater Technology, and the URI College of Engineering,

Pictured above

URI engineering students begin a test run of the robotic boat that won the international competition.