SINGAPORE (NNS) -- Sailors and civilian personnel from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) journeyed to Singapore to support the inaugural Maritime RobotX Challenge, Oct. 24-26.
The event is sponsored by ONR and organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation, the National University of Singapore Faculty of Engineering, and Science Center Singapore.
Over the weekend, 15 teams of college students from top engineering universities in the United States, Singapore, Australia, Japan, and South Korea will compete to see who can turn an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) into the most effective autonomous system, able to accomplish mission-related tasks without the aid of remote control.
Fourteen Sailors and five civilian technical experts from ONR and SPAWAR will spend the week preparing the teams by overseeing transportation of the USVs to and from the water and setting up an obstacle course. Navy personnel will also act as safety observers, inspectors and judges.
"We are here to develop and identify future engineering talent," said Lt. Mark McDaniel, project lead for ONR Reserve Component Support for RobotX. "Through U.S. and international competitions like this one, our goal is to drum up interest in robotics among college students, who could become the next generation of engineers at ONR and in the fleet."
Each team was given an identical USV - an unpowered version of the 16-foot Wave Adaptive Modular Vehicle - and tasked with adding sensors, software and other technology that will allow the vehicle to think and move on its own.
Teams will have to complete several tasks to demonstrate autonomous navigation and control; obstacle detection and avoidance; docking and object identification; underwater search for an acoustic source; and observation, identification and reporting of a specified object.
"I love being part of these robotics competitions," said Electronics Technician 1st Class Kyle Allen, assigned to SPAWAR. "To watch these students put so much effort into improving these vehicles is amazing. They invest all their time and energy into this project and we are amazed by the type of innovations they come up with in such a short time period."
The biennial event aims to strengthen students' knowledge in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), enhancing skills the U.S. Navy will need as the current generation of naval scientists and engineers reaches retirement age.
"Our support of STEM events has a significant impact on the next generation of naval scientists," said Cmdr. Eric Pihl, unmanned vehicle program manager assigned to SPAWAR Reserve Program. "With the DoD (Department of Defense) expecting a 30 percent loss of its science and technology professionals through retirement by 2020, there is a great need to mentor and encourage the next generation.
"Reservists at SPAWAR and ONR play an important role in the effort," he added.
The three U.S. teams are made up of students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Atlantic University/Villanova and Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Olin College. Along with the international teams, they will be competing for $100,000 in prize money.
"This was the first RobotX competition and I can only see this growing," said Allen. "There are a lot of nations we worked with this week that can bring these ideas and improvements back to their countries. It's amazing to see what people can do with technology."
For more news from Commander, Task Force 73, visit www.navy.mil/local/ctf73/.