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ONR’s RobotX Challenge held in Australia for the first time

The WAM-Vs at RobotX 2022 in Penrith, NSW (above); and the WAM-Vs at RobotX 2018 in Hawaii (top). Images: Defence and Robonation.

The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) held its 2022 RobotX Challenge at the Sydney International Regatta Centre, Penrith, 11-17 November. Some 20 teams from around the world, six of them Australian, participated in RobotX.

The names of prize winners were released 22 November – – the overall winner was Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of the USA, with the National University of Singapore second and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University from Taiwan third. The University of Sydney came fourth.

The challenge, held in collaboration with DSTG, required teams of high school or university students to design and manufacture a sophisticated autonomous control system for a 16-foot (4.85m) surface vessel, the Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel (WAM-V) Autonomous Marine System (AMS). The AMS is manufactured by US company Marine Advanced Robotics Inc and donated free of charge to each team by the ONR – the teams are free to focus on sensors, systems integration and autonomy.

Having designed and manufactured the autonomous control systems, the teams’ challenge was then to use them to complete a series of tasks aboard the AMSs, including navigation; object location and characterisation; encountering and avoiding wildlife; obstacle avoidance; acoustic beacon localisation; and docking and delivering. That last was particularly tough: the autonomous system had to identify the appropriate bay for docking, from a choice of three, and then actually dock successfully.

 Another test, ‘Find and Fling’ required the AMS to identify a floating panel of a designated colour (again, there was a choice of three) and ‘fling’ racquet balls through holes in the panels of two different sizes.

The Search and Rescue challenge involved launching and recovering a VTOL Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from the AMS, again fully autonomously, and firstly replenishing it and secondly conducting a ‘search and report’ exercise, sweeping an entire search area and launching and recovering from the same helipad.

The teams were also required to prepare a design paper and introductory video and deliver a design presentation.

The event was organised by ONR’s partner, an educational NFP called Robonation (previously the AUVSI Foundation) which has run most of the RobotX Challenges since the program began. The four previous RobotX Challenges have been held in Singapore and Honolulu.

The purpose of RobotX is to help bring students closer to a career in robotics, AI and machine learning by exposing them to the practicalities of designing and building a real-world AMS, gaining hands-on experience and generating critical feedback on their work.

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