Engineering Students Enter Unmanned Boat in AUVSI Competition

The Villanova team proudly displays its unmanned boat at the first annual International Autonomous Surface Vehicle Competition in San Diego.

In August, a team of Villanova engineering students traveled to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego to participate in the first annual International Autonomous Surface Vehicle Competition, sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Led by graduate student Jevon Avis MSME ’08, the team comprised undergraduates Alex Baumer, Elizabeth DiBella, Frederick Floyd, Michael Matsushima, and Nicholas Melgar (Mechanical Engineering); Mathew Goldsborough (Computer Engineering); and Daniel Morden (Chemical Engineering). Dr. C. Nataraj, Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, advised the group, while John Metzer, Program Manager at NAVSEA Philadelphia, provided technical supervision.

The three-day event was the culmination of work that the team had begun in May to create a six-foot-long autonomous boat whose mission would be to pass through a starting gate, navigate between buoys, detect and disable targets, enter a dock, rescue a mannequin, and return to base, all within 30 minutes. “For the hull, we used a rooftop cargo carrier,” Avis said. “Then we constructed the mechanical, electrical, and software systems.”

The interdisciplinary activity gave the students hands-on experience in system design and in engineering research and development. “We learned to think quickly on our feet, adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and leave more time for testing,” Avis said.

The competition offered challenging and realistic constraints that will spur research at the highest level. “The control algorithms we developed,” Dr. Nataraj said, “will be implemented on real boats, which will be used in future competitions, and also will serve as platforms for validation of our theoretical research.”

The Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program (NREIP) funded the student internships. In addition, Advanced Motion Control provided free motor controllers; Pathway Technologies provided free software; and Vision Technologies provided video cameras. The Department of Mechanical Engineering supplied technician and machining support.