UM::Autonomy makes a strong finish at RobotBoat Competition

Thurman, this year's UM::Autonomy vessel designed by EECS students, took 6th place in the RoboNation RoboBoat Competition.

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The UM::Autonomy team took 6th place in the world at this year’s RoboNation RoboBoat Competition, where teams build autonomous, robotic boats to navigate and race through an aquatic obstacle course. The boat, this year named Thurman, is completely designed and programmed by the students each year.

This year’s team leadership came almost entirely from EECS students, including President Marisa Witcpalek, Vice President Parker Howard, electrical team leads Dan Snyder and Zach Shopshire, and artificial intelligence team leads Cyrus Anderson and Kunjan Singh.

Team members were pleased with the outcome, and were able to tackle problems now that will improve their chances in future competitions.

“In past years the team has had some trouble focusing and figuring out what the problems in the system are,” said Dan. “This year, the team took a much broader approach and was able to isolate the issues that we now know to address in the coming year.”

This year was a big change for the team’s design strategy. In the past, students always built a catamaran, or a boat with two hulls. This year they chose to attempt the more familiar mono-hull design, allowing them to integrate the electrical system with the hull rather than placing it on top of the boat. According to Dan, this led to a much cleaner design that the team plans to expand on next year.

Incorporating this new integrated system was the big challenge for the electrical team this season. Senior members introduced the new recruits to the different parts of the electrical system and set them loose to build it while they focused their time on battery protection circuitry and a new printed circuit board.

The RobotBoat competition judges its entrants with a wide range of challenges that are designed to expose students to the many difficulties of autonomous operation.  The tests are held in a realistic maritime environment where the boats must pass through gates, avoid obstacles, dock, and launch and recover an unmanned aerial vehicle while in motion.

The future of the team looks bright – members continuing next year have built plenty of strong working relationships with their team.

“We focused a lot on team building this year and becoming friends instead of just teammates,” says Dan. “I’m excited for the ideas that the next year’s team leads have.”

August 2, 2016