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Autonomous Surface Vehicle Team Takes Silver Medal at “Roboboat” Competition


The Villanova Autonomous Surface Vehicle Team navigated its way to second place overall and a $5,000 prize at Roboboat 2012, an international robotics challenge hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The competition, which pits student teams against one another to race hand-built autonomous surface vehicles through an aquatic obstacle course, was held this year in Virginia Beach in June.

“This premier competition is extremely challenging and pushes the boundaries of the science of dynamic systems, immersing students in the cutting-edge technology of autonomous systems. The experience at the competition also pinpoints the difficult unsolved problems the researchers have to solve to be able to make autonomous vehicles a reality, and hence can help point the direction for our future research,” says Dr. C. Nataraj, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering, and the Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Mortiz, Sr., Chair in Systems Engineering. “This project was supported by the Office of Naval Research, which is also funding other related theoretical work on unmanned vehicles within the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and Control (CENDAC).”

Roboboat Competition

After placing first in the qualifying round, the team moved on to the final competition, in which the team navigated the boat through a buoy channel, demonstrating littoral area navigation, channel following, and autonomous docking. The competition also encourages the use of dynamic analysis, computer vision, multi-sensor function techniques, proactive and reactive path planning, and machine learning approaches using embedded systems within the vehicle.

Nick DiLeo ME ‘13, Joe Denny ME ‘13, Ryan Holihan ME ‘12, Alex Poultney ME ‘14, and Mike Weber CpE ’12 participated on-site at the competition. Other team members, whose contributions made a measurable impact on this year’s success, include Lester “Jim” McMackin ME ’13 and Shahriar Khan, MSEE student. The team was advised by Dr. Nataraj, while technical assistance was provided by Dr. Garrett Clayton, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. DongBin Lee, Research Fellow; and Dr. Helen Loeb, former Research Fellow.

Contributions also came from former team members, whose input during their time as engineering students laid a solid foundation on which to build the program. Ralph Sullivan ME ’10; Jevon Avis ME ’06, MSME ’09; Frank Ferrese MSCpE ’06, PhD Student; Spicer Bak ME ’07 and former Villanova Research Engineer; and Dr. Karthik Kappaganthu MSME ’07, PhD ’10 also share in the team’s success this year.

The team’s work takes place in the College’s Dynamic Systems Laboratory within CENDAC, and plans for next year’s competition have already begun. “The sophisticated modeling and analysis carried out in the lab needs to be backed up by experimental validation,” says Dr. Nataraj. Click here for more information on the contest. Click here to learn more about the Autonomous Surface Vehicle Team.

Visit their YouTube channel.