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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI engineering students place 4th in international underwater vehicle competition

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 13, 2004 -- A team of five engineering students at the University of Rhode Island won $2,000 for placing fourth in the seventh annual International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition organized by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and AUV Systems International.

The students competed against 17 other teams July 28- Aug. 1 in San Diego. MIT placed first, Cornell University second, and Ecole de Technologie Superieure of Canada placed third.

The event challenges student engineers to build a miniature robotic submarine that can self-navigate and independently perform realistic missions. This year's mission was to locate a series of targets, drop markers on the targets, and then surface within a designated recovery zone marked by an acoustic beacon. Once launched, the vehicles had to complete the mission without any external guidance or control.

"The team performed exceptionally well and after a series of remarkably consistent preliminary runs the judges were abuzz with the possibility that URI might once again upset mighty MIT," said Robert Tyce, URI professor of ocean engineering who, along with Professor James Miller, served as the URI team's advisors.

In the seven years of the competition, MIT has won five times. URI won in 2000, the first year it entered, and Cornell won last year.

"Our first preliminary run didn't look promising as the vehicle started off in reverse. But with the clock running, the team tore the vehicle apart on the dock in front of everyone, identified the unconnected direction line, and had the vehicle back in the water in time to complete a near perfect run." Tyce said.

According to Tyce, URI was in second place going into the finals, but fell to fourth when they "risked it all to get a run good enough to beat MIT," and were just inches from the 1000-point recovery zone when the clock ran out.

The URI team members were Annan Moseika (captain) of Essex Junction, Vt., Michel Beliard of Coventry, Chuen-Song Chen of Taiwan, John Corrigan of East Greenwich, and Sarah Warren of Arcadia, Cal.

The URI vehicle is five feet long and six inches in diameter, and equipped with an electronic compass/attitude sensor, depth sensor, speed log, image processing camera, and acoustic tracking systems for navigation. It also has a motorized marker deployment system. Weighing less than 20 kilograms, the URI vehicle received extra points as the lightest vehicle in the competition. The robotic submarine uses three programmable micro-controllers to manage its navigation systems, command its propeller and control surfaces, and decide when to drop its markers. The night before the first official run, the team designed and built a new optical system to improve detection of the target.

According to Miller, the URI team once again faced an uphill climb based in part on the difference in funding levels of the teams. "We were able to raise about $6,000 for this project, but MIT and Cornell and Duke and the other big schools had budgets ten times larger than ours with major corporate sponsorships. But that also made us the judges' favorites because we were the underdogs."

The complete competition consisted of a journal paper describing how the vehicle was designed; a visual display and inspection of the vehicle for technical merit, design, safety and craftsmanship; and the actual underwater competition held in an arena at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego. Judges included officials from the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, as well as Admiral Brad Mooney, former oceanographer of the Navy.

The URI team was sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant, General Dynamics-Electric Boat, the URI College of Engineering, and the URI Department of Ocean Engineering.