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Student-designed-and-built autonomous robotic submarines had to complete a difficult series of visual- and acoustic-based tasks in the international competition RoboSub held in San Diego, California in July.  The contest challenged students to design, build and race submarines through a complex obstacle course, where points are awarded for the number and difficulty of successfully completed mission tasks.

These tasks simulated the work required of robotic subs in many facets of underwater activity.

Forty-six teams competed in the event — sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation.

Kelly Cooper, a program officer in ONR said “This year saw our largest competitor field ever. To be successful, each team had to use their creative engineering skills to construct vehicles to navigate the course and its realistic missions — all autonomously.”

According to ONR website, the teams were required to navigate an obstacle course made of PVCpipes; “weigh anchor” by dropping markers within a predetermined area; “set course” by shooting mock torpedoes through a cutout; “scuttle a ship” — essentially touching buoys and pulling a surface ship underwater; and “bury a treasure” by finding an object emitting a sonar signal, grabbing the object and then moving and releasing it.

In addition to building the autonomous underwater vehicle, teams were also responsible for creating Web sites, videos and writing journal papers outlining their work.

“This event allows participants to not only demonstrate their engineering skills, but also their academic knowledge,” said Cooper.