Science and Technology

You beauty, Bruce! Bonza robo-boat takes safety mission to Hawaii

The future of maritime emergency response could look a lot like Bruce.

Built by a team of seven QUT students, Bruce is a robo-boat: autonomous, versatile – and representing Australia at the second-ever Maritime RobotX Challenge in Hawaii.

To beat the other 12 university teams from five countries, using the same basic hull, Bruce will need to complete a range of autonomous tasks that have real-world applications for emergency response and environmental management.

TeamQUT captain and PhD student Leo Stanislas said the competition was designed to inspire advances in the field of marine robotics.

“Search and rescue professionals are often prevented from doing their job by the rough ocean conditions but an autonomous boat can work any time and in any weather,” Mr Stanislas said.
“Some of our competition tasks involve avoiding obstacles while locating particular objects and locating acoustic pingers underwater, which have obvious relevance for search and research scenarios.

“One of the tasks Bruce has to perform is to locate a floating target and shoot balls into it – it sounds like a kids’ game but the technologies we’ve all developed to solve this problem could allow autonomous boats in the future to fight fires without human help.

“Likewise, from an environmental perspective, the technologies each team has developed to locate shapes on the seafloor could, for instance, be adapted to help autonomous boats map the extent of coral bleaching events.”

TeamQUT is the underdog despite claiming third place in 2014. On a shoestring budget themselves, the young roboticists are up against some well-known, highly experienced university teams including Georgia Tech and Seoul National University.

Bruce has some extra robotic support to put him in good stead, built from scratch by TeamQUT – a submarine called George which will be Bruce’s eyes and ears underwater, and Gusto the racquetball launcher.

QUT roboticist and team supervisor Dr Matthew Dunbabin said regardless of their final place, the competition puts his students at the forefront of a new industry.

“This is a great opportunity for Australia to showcase not just its hardware but also the huge wealth of talent in our future roboticists,” Dr Dunbabin said.

“RobotX is also a fantastic technical and networking experience for these students, an opportunity to gain exposure to a world-class industry and to meet some of its key players.

The world leaders in robotics are watching this competition closely.”

The Maritime RobotX competition runs December 11-18 2016 in Oahu, Hawaii.

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