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Universities Compete in Robosub Contest; Cornell Takes Top Spot

Cornell University took home the top spot and $10,000 in an annual "RoboSub" competition put on by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation and co-sponsored by the United States Office of Naval Research. The University of Florida came in second (and won $5,000) and École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal took third place (and $1,000).

These institutions and 35 others from around the world competed in a contest to design, build and race an underwater robot through an obstacle course set in San Diego. Most of the robosubs were about the size of a portable generator.

All suffered some kind of freeze-up during the timed event, which took the subs through paces that involved touching specific buoys, maneuvering around underwater goal posts, sorting and picking up objects and emerging out of the water in the correct octagon corral.

According to Cornell's co-team leader Moonyoung Lee, the university's entry suffered through a valve enclosure leak that affected its actuator systems. The team came up with a temporary solution: filling the enclosure with vitamin oil to keep the water out. "Our success in the competition is hugely dependent on experience," Lee said. "From prior experience, our team is more capable of making effective design decisions on the fly."

  The Cornell team's Gemini robosub experienced a valve leak en route to victory.
The Cornell team's Gemini robosub experienced a valve leak en route to victory.

This isn't the first time Cornell has won. It has taken the student competition in five out of the last six years.

The goal of the competition is to advance the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) by having students perform realistic missions in an underwater environment. Scuba divers are on hand to rescue the vehicles and return them to their makers.

The competition has wide corporate sponsorship with companies such as MathWorks, Northrop Grumman and Teledyne providing support.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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