A team of students from the University of Strathclyde has won an award at an international challenge in the design and building of an autonomous marine craft, after overcoming challenges that meant that they were able to compete only in the competition’s final round.
The StrathVoyager team took the Team Spirit Award at the Njord Marine Autonomy Challenge at NTNU in Trondheim, Norway, against six opponents from five nations – Norway, Turkey, India, the USA and Portugal.
Competitors brought their vessels to the Havet Arena in Trondheim, where they took part in a series of challenges and events, including manoeuvring, docking and collision avoidance.
Judges presented StrathVoyager with the award for the ‘commitment and spirit’ they showed, particularly in being the youngest team competing and being able to compete only on the last day after a number of setbacks.
A team member’s luggage, containing part of the boat, was lost and recovered too late for any testing to be carried out. The next day, a radio frequency module short circuited and, while it was replaced, it again prevented testing on the first day and participation in the manoeuvring challenge.
The team then decided to opt out of the docking challenge on the second day and focus on the final challenge of obstacle avoidance. It turned out to be a good decision, as the docking challenge proved difficult for their opponents and yielded few points.
Strathclyde’s team is part of the Strathclyde Union-registered Marine Robotics Society (MRS), which has attracted more than 50 student members in its first year. Based in the university’s Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering (NAOME), students from a range of departments and academic levels have come together to work on, and learn about, robotics and autonomous systems used in maritime environments.
‘Participating in this prestigious international event is already a significant success for our young team, and being awarded the Team Spirit Award is a remarkable team achievement and recognition of the students’ hard work over the past 12 months, said team captain Panagiotis Louvros.
StrathVoyager’s autonomous surface vehicle is the pilot design project of the MRS. The catamaran platform has been designed to be highly modular, allowing future students to upgrade components while also facilitating ease of repair and transport. Fitted with a range of sensors, including a 3D camera, 3D Lidar, and inertial measurement unit, the onboard Nvidia Jetson computer is programmed to fuse sensor information, enabling the boat to simultaneously localise and map the environment and take advantage of cutting-edge deep reinforcement learning AI technology for decision making and, as a result, autonomous navigation.
‘The Team Spirit Award is a testament to the exceptional synergy, collaboration and camaraderie that define the society,’ said David Dai, a research fellow in NAOME and the MRS’s academic mentor. ‘It is a pleasure to be involved with such a talented, energetic and enthusiastic team, and to support and guide them as an academic mentor.’
‘I would like to say thank you to everyone who has contributed directly, or indirectly, through advice in conversations, to help us build the society’s first autonomous platform,’ said MRS president and StrathVoyager team member Marvin Wright. ‘We aim to expand our collaborations with organizations such as RINA [the Royal Institution of Naval Architects] and are open to further collaborations and sponsorships. In the future, we want to build on this great success and continue to attract curious minds to design and build more autonomous platforms.’