News Release

Learning how to program boats for autonomous movement

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Students learned how to program off-the-shelf modified boats in MAE 198. 

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 7, 2015 -- Small toy-sized boats were zooming around Canyonview Pool here on campus on a recent Thursday afternoon. The boats accelerated and took tight turns around each other, then slowed to an almost-crawl and traced precise patterns in the pool.

It was all part of the MAE 198 class led by Teaching Professor Mark Anderson. Students learn how to program modified off-the-shelf boats to autonomously follow a route. The skills student acquire can be used in a wide range of autonomous vehicle projects, from Google’s self-driving cars to unmanned aircraft and high-end drones.

“It’s really about how you organize code so that the vehicle can perform specific missions,” Anderson said.

Each boat is equipped with a micro-controller and a GPS device.

The class is a good introduction to programming, said Manwinder Uppal, a sophomore and environmental engineering major. “I’d never worked with code before,” she said. “Now I know simple commands.”

The class also was a good reality check about how engineering actually happens, said Delta Caraulia, a sophomore and mechanical engineering major. “I learned a lot about what you think is going to happen versus what actually happens,” she said.

She and Uppal were trying to get their boat to follow a rectangular route. At first, it wasn’t cooperating. But on that Thursday, it finally did.

The boats and associated equipment were paid for by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, which Anderson obtained along with Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Eric Terrill. The course is open to sophomores and juniors and includes, lectures, guest speakers and the hands-on autonomous boat project. 

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Students prepare for a test of their boat for the MAE 198 class, where they learn how to program the vessels to move autonomously. 
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Students track their boats during a session of the MAE 198 class at the Canyonview Pool. 
Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering