Monday, July 26, 2010

Cornell University defends title at 13th Annual Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition

SAN DIEGO, July 2010 — Cornell University defended its title as champion at this year’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition.

The competition brought together 22 teams from five countries for the 13th annual event. SPAWAR Systems Center (SSC) Pacific has hosted the competition, which is sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and several corporate sponsors, at the Transducer Evaluation Center (TRANSDEC) Pool for the past nine years.

Students had to build and program their own autonomous underwater vehicles that would complete a course of various obstacles including recognizing colors and reacting to sounds. The theme this year was Underwater the 13th – a horror film theme.

Dave Novick, technical director for the competition, said the pool was “Camp TRANSDEC,” with various summer camp-themed obstacles. First, the robots had to get a life jacket (recognize the colored buoys), jump the hedges (move over piping suspended in the water), select tools for weapons (identify shapes), fire a crossbow through the window (launch a torpedo), and finally save the counselor by pulling him out of a cabin (in this case, surface).

“Releasing is new this year,” Novick said. “They have to release the counselor before surfacing.”

He said most of the obstacles rely on visual cues because cameras are cheap and easy to use. But he said he hopes to incorporate a wider variety of challenges in future years.

Also new this year was the SAE International Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS) Interoperability Challenge that accounted for about 15 percent of the total possible points. Teams have had the opportunity to attempt the JAUS Challenge in the past, but it was not an official part of the competition.

The requirement was a late addition to this year’s event, but 11 teams gave it a try. About half of them got a perfect score.

“So much of what they do is on the research and science side,” said Ralph “Woody” English, president of SAE AS-4, a group that publishes documents on JAUS. “We think it challenges them to think about things they will do on the job side.”

The event is open to the public during the qualifying rounds and finals each year.

Steve Koepenick, Deputy of Program Development for SSC Pacific's ISR/IO Competency, Autonomous Systems Division, said the competition is a great opportunity for community outreach.

“When we first did this nine years ago it was obvious to me we could do outreach,” he said. “We can show off our facility, capability and what we do for the community.”

“Plus, the competition helps foster young, bright minds,” he said.

In the past, the Center has hired some of the students who participate in the competition. Just by preparing for the competition, they show that they can work across disciplines, defend their work and apply concepts to real-world applications.

“We hire the best and brightest,” Koepenick said. “(These students would) know what to do when they get here.”

Final results for the competition were as follows:
1st Place - Cornell University
2nd Place - U.S. Naval Academy
3rd Place - University of Maryland
4th Place - Team SONIA -École de Technologie Supérieure
5th Place - Amador Valley High School
6th Place - University of Texas at Dallas
7th Place - Kyushu Institute of Technology
Best Run of Teams Not in Finals: University of Central Florida
Never Give Up Award: Iceland
Best Presentation: San Diego City Robotics

SSC Pacific is recognized worldwide as a leader in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of the Nation's warfighters.

Serving as host of the AUVSI competition for the last nine years is just one example of the command's commitment to young people who want to learn more about the practical application of science and engineering. In 2009, the command was awarded the Maritime Alliance Educational Outreach Award for its educational outreach efforts.

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