CENDAC Partners with Unmanned Ocean Vehicles to Win STTR Grant

Last year, Unmanned Ocean Vehicles, Inc. (UOV), went on a scavenger hunt of sorts. The Virginia-based company was looking for a university partner that could equip its preliminary model of an automated boat with energy-scavenging technology and unmanned control systems. Its search led it to the College of Engineering’s Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and Control (CENDAC).

As a result of the ensuing alliance, Villanova is receiving $80,000 from a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program Phase II contract issued by the Navy to UOV to develop a prototype of an unmanned surface vehicle.

“We will do the research,” said C. Nataraj, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a co-PI on the funding proposal, “UOV will build the boat, and Trident Systems, Inc., a third partner, will provide the hardware.” Dr. Nataraj will be in charge of the control systems, which help the boat “know” where it is, where it will go, and what it will do.

Pritpal Singh, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a co-PI, will oversee the project’s energy aspects. Because UOV wants the boat’s components to be powered by solar energy, Dr. Singh will tackle everything from energy collection to management to optimization.

“At the end of the 11-month project,” Dr. Nataraj said, “we hope to have a boat with some level of autonomy and hardiness.” UOV’s ultimate goal is to produce a vehicle with unlimited endurance for military and oceanographic applications, such as oil-platform security and environmental monitoring.

In addition to autonomous systems, CENDAC’s researchers have expertise in areas such as structural systems, material science, and automotive emissions control. Dr. Nataraj, who served as the Center’s first director, attributed its success to the collegial spirit of Villanova’s faculty. “We could pull together people who were performing well in their own disciplines and say, ‘Now we’re going to share a lab.’ That can be done more easily here than at other places.”