In December 2016, seven students advised by Mechanical Engineering Professor C. Nataraj, PhD, and Associate Professor Garrett Clayton, PhD, traveled to Hawaii to take part in RobotX, a selective international competition on autonomous surface vehicles. Organized by the Office of Naval Research and the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International, RobotX is designed to foster and stimulate research in marine autonomy. The competition requires teams to prepare a 16-foot boat to perform several operations autonomously (without any human input). Among the tasks are navigation, obstacle avoidance, acoustic source location, docking, light source identification and communication. Villanova University teamed with Florida Atlantic University; Villanova was in charge of high level control and autonomy, and FAU dealt with the boat and low level control.
Preparation started almost a year and a half before the competition with students working long and hard on various aspects of the project. Dynamics, control, navigation, autonomy, acoustics, communication, networking and vision were just a few of the areas the students had to contend with. As a bonus, the students also learned teamwork, project management, communication and leadership. The seven who represented Villanova Engineering in Hawaii were PhD candidates Winston Gresov and Michael Benson, Master’s students Dhanraj Akula EE and Akash Gvalani CpE, 2016 graduate Enmanuel Almonte CpE and undergraduates Thaddeus Cullina ’18 ME and Ian Stankosh ’17 ME.
The Villanova-FAU team (“WORX”) did very well, placing sixth in the competition.
Acknowledgements: The project was supported by generous grants from Villanova University (Provost and Dean of the College of Engineering), Leidos, Base2 Engineering and the Levaris. Their support is much appreciated.