RoboSub and the Problem of Submarine Automation
Updated: May 7
Go beyond, way beyond the surface.
In the current scenario in which our society fits, there is a growing concern of companies with the safety of their employees and adaptation to new technologies. This is very observed in companies that carry out submarine projects, such as the Oil & Gas sector, mainly with the tendency to explore oil reserves in deep waters, which prevents the use of divers due to high pressure.
With that in mind, these companies started using robots to replace divers. However, there is still a great dependence on human beings to control the robots and do all the services. In this way, RoboNation®, a North American non-profit organization focused on created a competition in order to encourage subsea developing automation solutions for vehicles, created a competition in order to encourage subsea automation and tackle these problems seen in the market.
This is how RoboSub® emerged, an international competition aimed mainly at university students with a focus on the development of autonomous submarines, also known as Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). The participants have the mission of completing a series of tests that simulate jobs required by robots in underwater activities.
The competition takes place annually in the city of San Diego, California - USA and lasts for a week. In these seven days it is divided into three phases, the first being the qualifying phase, which occurs in the first five days, in which the teams struggle to get a place in the semifinals. This represents the second phase and occurs on the sixth day among the best classifieds. Finally, we have the last day, when the grand final takes place with the best teams and the closing event.
Each year the competition has a different theme that changes the dynamics of the tests, but the tasks that the robot must perform, without any control and interference from human beings, follow a pattern, being able to classify them in general in 11 types:
1. Coin launch: a coin is launched whose resulting face determines the initial orientation of the robot in relation to the dock, causing it to reorient itself to proceed to the next task.
2. Go through the gate: This move validates the next run that the robot does and allows us to qualify for the semifinal. To complete the task, the autonomous vehicle needs to identify a gate and maintain control until it exceeds its limits.
3. Style: just after passing through the gate, style points are assigned to each complete turn of the robot around its own axes.
4. Follow the path: there is a red path at the bottom of the competition tank, which the robot can use to locate itself in space.
5. “Hitting” the buoy: Two buoys with different images are positioned after the gate. Each image is worth a different score and it is up to the robot's “vision” to detect the most worthwhile image.
6. Collect and deposit: There are objects scattered around the competition tank that can be collected and then released by the robot in the appropriate place. Each of these actions is worth points for the team.
7. Launch torpedoes: in this task, the robot needs to recognize a target in the tank and launch a torpedo towards you.
8. Emerge on the target: there is an octagon within which the robot can emerge. For this, the vehicle needs to find the right place and activate its propellers to go up.
9. Drop objects: the robot has a trigger that releases balls. In competition, the balls need to be thrown in the correct place.
10. Communication: Teams can participate with more than one vehicle and earn points if they communicate.
11. Signal capture: In the competition tank, there are two signal emitters positioned close to some specific events. The robot can triangulate the signal to identify its position, adding points.