A team of mechanical engineering students’ autonomous robotic boat earned the Manufacturing Award at the international RoboBoat competition, presented by RoboNation.
The five-student design team built the boat and programmed its autonomous functions for their senior design project in the C.R.A.W. (Controls, Robotics, and Automation, With respect for human interaction) Lab under the direction of Dr. Joshua Vaughan, associate professor of mechanical engineering. This was UL Lafayette’s first team to compete at the RoboBoat competition, which was held in South Daytona, Fla., this month. The team included Grant Bellard, Cristian Gary, Kaleb Gautreaux, Tristan Lee, and Luke Matt.
Starting in August 2018, the team designed the boat based on the competition rules, which included guidelines for autonomy, buoyancy, power, energy sources, size, and safety. The students spent most of the Fall 2018 semester on conceptual design; in the spring, they focused on construction and coding to prepare it for the competition course. They also created a paper, presentation, video and website for the competition.
The three-foot vessel is a battery-powered boat equipped with stereoscopic camera, hydrophones, and LiDAR to locate obstacles around the competition course. For steering and speed, the boat uses four variable-speed thrusters arranged in a unique X-configuration to enhance the boat’s agility.
For the competition, the boat had to depend entirely on onboard electronics to navigate different aquatic obstacle courses that tested navigation, speed, and docking abilities. The team programmed the custom code and algorithms that connected the cameras and computer to autonomously navigate the boat.
The docking course required boats to pick up pinging sounds from underwater markers and triangulate the proper location to dock. The speed and navigation courses use different color buoys that the boats' cameras and LiDAR systems have to see, and then the computer determines each buoy’s location before directing the boat to maneuver around them.
The hull design and fiberglass construction helped secure the team’s Manufacturing Award win. With the Manufacturing Award win, the team took home $1,000 in cash. In addition, the team was awarded a $250 gift certificate by Blue Robotics for boat-building parts, and an NVIDIA graphics processor that Dr. Vaughan hopes to use for next year’s RoboBoat project.
“The award they got was from the judges, who were mostly from ONR (Office of Naval Research),” said Dr. Vaughan. “They were impressed with the manufacturing, the actual production of the hull and the mechanical aspects, which I think is pretty fitting, considering they are all mechanical engineering students.”
See more photos from the team's year-long preparation and the week-long competition below.