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ARLINGTON, Va. - This past week, the 25th Annual RoboSub competition occurred at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. RoboSub is an international robotics competition where student teams design, build, test and operate their own robotic submarines — autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) — in challenging underwater environments.
A total of 39 teams from 11 countries, comprising 790 students and 63 advisors, participated in RoboSub this year; 29 teams, with 289 students and advisors, attended the in-person competition. There were multiple categories with various winners in each category, but the winner of the penultimate competition — the Autonomy Challenge — was the National University of Singapore. Amador Valley High School, (Pleasanton, California) earned an impressive second-place finish, and in third was Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)
“The Robosub event is truly amazing,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Lorin Selby. “It gives future scientists and engineers a taste of some of the challenges we face as a naval force, and they innovate and solve tough problems at speed — exactly the kind of approach I encourage in the Naval Research Enterprise. It’s a great credit to the team and all the students that work so diligently to make this a success.”
The week-long competition was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Blue Origin, MathWorks, Blue Robotics, LGH, Blue Trail Engineering, Siemens, SolidWorks, Bulgin and Teledyne Marine.
“Robosub provides a way for students to learn and demonstrate engineering principals in the undersea environment,” said Dr. Daniel Deitz, a program officer in ONR’s Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department and a RoboSub judge. “This augments their traditional school curriculum and provides experience with undersea systems. These students are potential new workforce members in the Naval Research Enterprise. Whether industry, universities, military or government civilians, these students have increased knowledge that they can apply in their future careers.”
During the competition, students were challenged with designing, building and then testing an autonomous submarine. Once the vehicle is released, there is no human intervention. The students watched poolside, hoping they had designed a robust vehicle and programmed and tuned the software to successfully navigate the course.
“Testing is a critical part of the design process,” said Deitz. “It determines whether the system meets the goals of the design and operates as required for the customer. Autonomous capabilities will play a massive role in future battlespaces. It is important we introduce these capabilities to the next generation, so they can provide the decisive edge in the conflicts to come.”
In 1997, ONR Program Officers Tom Curtin and Tom Swean, of ONR’s Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department, helped originate the AUV Competition, better known as RoboSub.
Over the past two-and-a-half decades, RoboSub has grown into what it is today: a Naval STEM multiday super-event with dozens of competing teams from across the U.S. and around the world; an introduction to real-world autonomous systems; an exclusive networking event; and an on-the-job mentoring opportunity for students and engineers alike.
AUVs play a critical role in maintaining maritime superiority for the U.S. Navy today, and will continue to provide that superiority in the future with the aid of brilliant minds like those on display at RoboSub.
Bobby Cummings is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.