RoboSub: International AUV competition

Nina Rach

September 1, 2014

Thirty-eight student-led teams from 12 countries competed at the 17th annual RoboSub competition, 28 July - 3 August 2014, held at the US Navy’s SSC Pacific TRANSDEC Anechoic pool, in Point Loma, California. The event is co-sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation and the US Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The goal of the competition is to advance the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) by challenging a new generation of engineers to perform realistic missions in an underwater environment.

RoboSub fosters ties between young engineers and organizations developing AUV technologies. The sponsors say the event has been tremendously successful in recruiting students into the high-tech field of maritime robotics.


The Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (CUAUV) team designs and builds AUVs for competition and research. The undergraduate team’s primary annual objective is the international RoboSub competition, and CUAUV has placed in the top ten every year and has won the overall competition six times, including 2013, with their vehicle Ragnarök, and this year, with AUV Gemini.  Rising senior Melissa Hamada contributed photos from this year’s competition.

Gemini AUV, built by Cornell University team.Photo from CUAUV’s Melissa Hamada.

The CUAUV team has four subteams, each responsible for a specific vehicle system to promote individual accountability, and three faculty advisors: Alan Zehnder, Graeme Bailey, and Bruce Land.

Adlink provided an “Express-HL” computer-on-module (COM) to power the autonomous sub using a stripped-down version of Debian “Wheezy” Linux.

CUAUV Mechatronics Team Leader Moonyoung (Mark) Lee studies electrical and computer engineering, and told OE: “RoboSub always offers a vast variety of challenges. Aside from the rigorous obstacle course itself, the competition demands adaptability from both the teams and the AUVs. For example, our vehicle navigation algorithm is heavily dependent on the vision data it receives from the two forward machine vision cameras. Because our vehicle was mainly tested in an indoor pool, which provides constant lighting with minimal ripples, the outdoor TRANSDEC facility proves to be a difficult due to San Diego’s varying sunlight and strong breeze that causes ripples on the surface of the pool. 

“Despite our success in the past two years, this year’s competition was by no means a smooth sail. We had our fair share of obstacles to overcome when many points of the vehicle started failing after we arrived in San Diego. Our computer failed to reboot due to hard disk corruption, our custom motor controller board blew FETs, and our enclosure constantly flooded. Such challenges required us to come up with new design solution on the fly. For example, since we couldn’t keep the water from leaking into our valve enclosure, we actively filled the enclosure with mineral oil to prevent further leaking and decoupling of electrical components. It’s the exhilarating moments when we resolve and overcome real challenges with building an AUV as a team that attract us to participate in RoboSub every year.”

To help inspire young engineers and scientists, CUAUV is also engaged in local outreach. In March, they co-hosted a Boy Scout Robotics Workshop on campus, and 17 scouts built and tested their own SeaPerch submarines.

CUAUV team member Corey Chang told OE, “I want to give a huge thank you to our sponsors, alumni, advisors, friends and family. They’ve always been our biggest supporters and one of the main reasons why we can do this year after year.”


Layout of  pool.

RoboSub schedule

Teams were required to submit a video introducing the team and their approach to the event; the video is scored and used online and on-site during the webcast on the final competition day. They are also required to write and submit a journal paper describing the design of their vehicle and the rationale behind their design choices.

Orientation and check-in took place on 28 June, followed by three practice days. Static judging began on 31 July, during which judges evaluated each vehicle for technical merit, safety, and craftsmanship. Teams exhibited posters describing their vehicles during this static display period. The semi-final competition was on 1-2 August, followed by live streaming of the final competition on 3 August.

Technical specs

For the RoboSub competition, an AUV must fit within a 6ft x 3ft x 3ft box (1.83m x 0.91m x 0.91m), and weigh less than 125lb (56.7kg); ideally less than 84lb (38kg). For AUVs between 84lb-125lb, a point penalty was assessed. For AUVs less than 84lb, bonus points were added. Extra bonus points were given to AUVs weighing less than 48.5lb (<22kg).

All vehicles must be battery powered and all batteries must be sealed to reduce the hazard from acid or caustic electrolytes. The open circuit voltage of any battery (or battery system) in a vehicle may not exceed 60 VDC.

The competition uses Teledyne Benthos ALP-365 pingers that can be set at 25-40 kHz in 0.5kHz increments.


The goal of the mission is for an AUV to demonstrate its autonomy by completing an underwater TRANSDEC 17 moon mission. The vehicle must be able to stop and interact with the control panel (dock/interact with buoys), complete a maneuvering task (pass over/around an obstacle), reroute power (manipulate pegs on a board), choose a landing site (drop markers), invite aliens to brunch (fire torpedoes through a cutout), and collect samples from the moon (find a pinger, grab an object and move/release the object). Each team has 20 minutes of competition time, including 5 min. preparation out of the water and 15 min. performance in the water.

During the competition, the vehicle must operate autonomously, with no control, guidance, or communication from a person or any off-board computer. The vehicle and any parts connected to the vehicle must submerge and remain submerged. No item may break the surface or be left floating while the vehicle is underway.

Anechoic pool during competition.


The Technical Director, responsible for rules, procedures, and specifications, is Dr. David Novick, from Sandia National Labs, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Executive Director Daryl Davidson, responsible for coordination, said the teams have “got to be able to raise money; they’ve got to get logistics in place to get here, to ship their vehicles here. Then once they get here, they’ve got to operate and make sure they’ve got their support network…to be able to say that if something breaks or goes wrong– which it always does– ‘we can fix that.’”

Susan Nelson, Executive Director of SeaPerch, the US Navy’s signature K-12 Outreach program, now managed by the AUVSI Foundation, told U-T San Diego TV poolside during the competition, that China graduates 1 million engineers/year and India graduates half a million. “Here in the US, we graduate less than 70,000 engineers/year. In 10 years’ time, that will not be enough engineers to fill the pipeline.”

OE congratulates all the competitors!


1st Place—Cornell University

2nd Place—University of Florida

3rd Place—ETS (École Technologie Supérieure)

4th Place—Far Eastern Federal University

5th Place—National Univ. of Singapore

Judges Awards

Best New Entry — California Institute of Technology

Best Branding — McGill University

International Collaboration — Team Bangalore Robotics

Mayor’s Cup for Outreach — ETS

2014 RoboSub team entrants

• Ain Shams University (ASU Racing Team): Cairo, Egypt

• Amador Valley High School: Pleasanton, CA

• California Institute of Technology: Pasadena, CA

• California State Polytechnic University: Pomona, CA

• Carl Hayden High School (Falcon Robotics): Phoenix, Arizona

• Cornell University: Ithaca, New York

• Daytona Beach Homeschoolers (S.S. Minnow): Palm Coast, FL

• Delhi Technological University: Delhi, India

• Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: Daytona Beach, FL

• Far Eastern Federal University: Vladivostok, Russian Federation

• Harbin Engineering University: Harbin, China

• Indian Institute of Technology Bombay: Mumbai, India

• Indian Institute of Technology Madras: Chennai, India

• Istanbul Technical University (AUVTECH): Istanbul, Turkey

• Kasetsart University: Bangkok, Thailand

• Kyushu Institute of Technology: Fukuoka, Japan

• Mälardalen University: Västerås, Sweden

• McGill University (McGill Robotics): Montreal, Canada

• Montana State University: Bozeman, Montana

• National University of Singapore (Team Bumblebee): Singapore

• Nautilus: Temecula, CA

• Prairie View A&M University: Prairie View, TX

• Reykjavik University: Reykjavik, Iceland

• RoboEgypt Electronic Research Institute: Alexandria, Egypt

• RoboSub Club of the Palouse:

- Washington State Univ., Pullman, WA

- University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

• San Diego City College: San Diego, CA

• San Diego Robotics 101: San Diego, CA

• San Diego State Univ. Mechatronics Club: San Diego, CA

• Southern Polytechnic State University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team: Marietta, Georgia

• St. George’s School: Vancouver, Canada

• Team BangaloreRobotics: Bangalore, India

• Team SONIA - École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS): Montreal, Canada

• University of Alberta (ARVP): Edmonton, Canada

• University of Arizona (AUVUA): Tucson, Arizona

• University of Colorado Boulder: Boulder, Colorado

• University of Florida: Gainesville, Florida

• University of Maryland: College Park, MD

• University of Southern CA: Los Angeles, CA

• University of Toronto: Toronto, Canada

Related news:

RoboSub 2014: Asian teams earn awards in AUV competition, 5 August 2014

Asian AUV teams compete at RoboSub, 30 July 2014