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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI ocean engineering students' submarine sinks competition

Team beats best engineering schools in North America

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 12, 2000 -- Four students studying ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island sunk the hopes of students from 11 other schools to win the third annual International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition, held July 7 through 9 in Orlando, Fla.

Sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the event challenged student engineers to build a miniature robotic submarine that could find and identify a sunken acoustic beacon and strobe light. Once launched, the subs had to complete the mission without any external guidance or control.

The ability to deploy autonomous systems that can self-navigate, collect information and function independently of human assistance will allow for significant advances in current ocean operating systems. These technologies are used by companies and governmental agencies that conduct deep ocean operations and environmental monitoring.

The URI team consisted of team captain Ryan Freke of Bozeman, Mont., Rich Bashour of Great Barrington, Mass., Jaki Foran of Warwick, and Scott Veitch of Belle Mead, N.J. The team's faculty adviser was Jim Miller, associate professor of ocean engineering. Team member Ed King of Coventry died prior to the championship competition. The team was chosen in May after a year long sophomore course in ocean engineering design.

"The judges loved us!" said Miller. "Not only were we the only team to accomplish the mission, but they were impressed by our design and materials. We were the unanimous choice of the judges."

Representatives of the Navy, the National Science Foundation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and other marine institutions served as judges.

The URI vehicle was 5 feet long, weighed 26 pounds and cost approximately $1,000 to build. The vehicle was equipped with a pair of Lego Mindstorm RCX computers for navigation and control. The teams that tied for second place, Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spent about than $50,000 each on their entries and needed a crane to deploy their 200-pound vehicles in the water. MIT won the event in 1998 and 1999.

"We were clearly the underdog in the competition, since this was our first year participating," Miller said. "Our team and our budget was much smaller than that of the other competitors."

The competition consisted of a journal paper describing how the vehicle was designed (submitted in June); a visual display and inspection of the vehicle for technical merit, design, safety and craftsmanship; and the actual underwater competition held in a pond at Disneyworld's Coronado Springs Resort. Each team had 45 minutes to prepare and deploy their vehicle.

"It was really frenzied during the competition, with lots of last-minute revisions and reprogramming of the vehicles," explained Miller. "Some entries immediately sank, others withdrew before they even got to the water. Ours was the only one to complete the mission."

A team of elite divers from the Navy Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City, Florida, supported the event by installing the underwater beacons, handling vehicle launch and recovery, and tracking the vehicles during the runs.

"Our sub sometimes got away from the divers by going fast and deep, but they took it as a challenge," said Miller. "They really enjoyed swimming along with it."

The URI team won $4,000 in prize money.

"Winning was bittersweet for us. We lost team member Ed King in May after the URI competition. The team dedicated the effort and the win to his memory."

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For Further Information: Todd McLeish 874-7892

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