URI team wins international robotic boat contest

A TEAM OF URI STUDENTS won first place for their robotic boat, which autonomously navigated an obstacle course in the 2011 International RoboBoat Competition.
Posted 6/28/11

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A team of engineering students from the University of Rhode Island took home first place in an international robotic boat competition earlier this month.

The competition required student-designed boats to autonomously navigate a series of buoys, turn off a waterfall, identify which of several targets was “on fire,” put out the fire with a water cannon, and pick up a tennis ball off of a dock, URI said in a news release Monday.

“Other teams navigated the buoy channel better than us, but none of them even attempted any of the other tasks,” said Hayden Radke, an ocean engineering major from Saunderstown. “We preferred to try and fail rather than not try at all. This concept didn’t seem to occur to the other teams.”

Andrew Bird, graduate student from Lichfield, England, added: “Other teams went for the safest option whereas we went for the more difficult path and it paid off.”

The URI students earned a $6,000 prize, edging out teams from the University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Lab, Virginia Tech, Stevens Institute, the Diponegoro University in Indonesia, and Georgia Tech Savannah Robotics.

“This experience has led to a number of job offers for team members, interest from instrument manufacturers to install their products on our boat, and the funding to go to the autonomous underwater vehicle competition in San Diego later this year,” said graduate student Edward Richards of Providence. “It has also led to a number of new contacts within the robotics community and tighter relations among team members.”

The URI boat design included: a computer camera, scanning laser range finder, infrared thermal sensor, precision GPS, water cannon, extendable arm with ball grabber, twin trolling motor propulsion system, custom power systems, along with several embedded microcontroller and PC computers programmed by the students.

URI entered the competition in the previous three years and placed in the top five every time. This year’s contest took place in Virginia Beach, Va., from June 9 to 12. The same 20-student URI team has entered a robotic submarine competition, which will take place in July.

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