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RoboSub 2011: Amorous Autonomy Results in Robotic Romance

Why “Valentine’s Day” in July for a robotics competition? The theme and challenge for the 14th International RoboSub Competition, sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), held July 12-17, 2011, was “RoboLove.”

The theme and challenge for the 14th International RoboSub Competition, sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), held July 12-17, 2011, was “RoboLove.”

The theme was embraced by 27 teams from universities around the world, as well as two high schools, all attracted to the endearing challenge. It was a great opportunity for students passionate about robotics, computer science, and engineering.

Carl Hayden High School RoboSub

This was the first RoboSub competition for the Falcon Robotics team from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo courtesy of Capt. Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The goal of the competition was to advance the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) by challenging a new generation of engineers to perform realistic missions in an underwater environment. “This event also serves to foster ties between young engineers and the organizations developing AUV technologies,” says Daryl Davidson, executive director of the AUVSI Foundation.

Enchanting as it was, this “date with destiny” entailed some commitment:

  • You are on your way to your sweetie’s house; your path is laid out in orange; collect flowers (touch a buoy);
  • Follow the path to “lover’s lane” (pass over a bar);
  • Choose between dropping off love letters (drop items in a bin), or;
  • Firing Cupid’s arrow through a heart (send a projectile through a heart-shaped object);
  • Pass over another part of lover’s lane, pick up a vase and deliver the flowers (retrieve an object and place it inside an octagon).

The vehicles had to complete the challenge submerged without any outside control once the mission started.

Cornell University RoboSub

The Cornell University team returned to RoboSub this year as reigning champions.The Cornell University team returned to RoboSub this year as reigning champions. Photo courtesy of Capt. Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Teams had to submit presentation papers, websites, videos, and of course, an autonomous robot that could successfully navigate the course that was constructed underwater in the Transducer Evaluation Center – TRANSDEC – pool at the U.S. Navy‘s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Center in San Diego, Calif.

The robotic romance competition was not easy. Call it “tough love.” But students relished the chance to test their design, construction, programming, presentations, and operation skills with other teams from as far away as Reykjavik University in Iceland; Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan; Harbin Engineering University in China; and two teams from India representing Delhi and Kharagpur. A pair of Canadian teams participated, including this year’s RoboSub champions, Team SONIA from École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, Quebec, winning the top prize of $7,000. What’s not to love about that?

A pair of Canadian teams participated, including this year’s RoboSub champions, Team SONIA from École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, Quebec, winning the top prize of $7,000. What’s not to love about that?

The university teams included undergraduates, graduate students, and Ph.D. candidates. Two high schools entered the competition. Amador Valley High School, in Pleasanton, Calif., returned again this year, while the Falcon Robotics team from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz., was a RoboSub rookie.

Events such as RoboSub help encourage young people to pursue lifelong relationships in science and technology.

Mesa College RoboSub

The Mesa College team’s vehicle featured prop guards fashioned from wire mesh pencil holders. Photo courtesy of Capt. Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The 2011 RoboSub Winners:

  • 1st Place: ETS Team SONIA (Canada) (awarded $7,000)
  • 4th Place: Reykjavik University (Iceland) (awarded $2,000)

Judges Awards

  • Mayor’s Cup for Community Outreach: Carl Hayden High School (awarded $1,000)
  • Outstanding Technical Mentorship: University of Maryland ($500)
  • Best Paper Award: Kyushu University (awarded $500)

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...