News Release

Students bring home experience, awards from RobotX Maritime challenge in Sydney

December 14, 2022-- Six UC San Diego engineering and data science students were on the ground in Sydney, Australia in November, as their team put the autonomous boat they’ve been developing all year to the test in the Maritime RobotX challenge. The UC San Diego students, leading a larger team which also included several San Diego high school students, were awarded Best Design Presentation; Best Team Introduction Video; 2nd place in Design Documentation; and Excellence in Logistics Compliance. 

The Advancing Science, Technology, and Art team, which included several UC San Diego engineering and data science students, at the RobotX Maritime challenge in Australia.

The Maritime RobotX competition challenged teams of students from around the world to turn a 16-foot wave adaptive modular vessel (WAM-V) hull into a completely autonomous system, capable of navigating to specific buoys, launching objects at a target, and working with a drone to map out the sea space, entirely on its own.

To do this, the team equipped the WAM-V with a LiDAR sensor and cameras for navigation, plus a hyperspectral imaging camera on the accompanying drone, and a hydroponic sensor. 

Points are scored by completing several tasks, including: navigating to a certain colored buoy; maneuvering around a series of gates; launching an object at a target; working in collaboration with a drone to identify another colored marker and navigating to it; avoiding staged, fake wildlife encounters; and docking at a specific bay.

While they didn’t come away with a spot on the podium for the maritime component itself, the students say they learned a lot through the experience, and were pleased to have their design and logistics work recognized.

“The first challenge we had was getting approved for safety in the water,” said Jesus Fausto, an electrical engineering master’s student. “There was some confusion on an instruction for one of the safety requirements, which we got working after a couple of days. This issue caused a lack of time to test and debug the software with the actual buoys and other objects rather than with the props we used for testing in San Diego.”

Colin Szeto, a mechanical engineering undergraduate, agreed that learning to deal with these challenges on the fly will be a critical skill in any industry or academic career.

“100% this experience has prepared us with engineering skills,” Colin Szeto said. “The team did not perfectly interpret the competition organizer’s requirements and we had to address them during the competition. The team had to be flexible to work with the available resources as well as the timing of our main batteries coming in late. I have no doubt that the quick thinking that I had to engage in with my team members will be handy skills in future jobs.”

Even members of the team who weren’t able to travel to Australia for the competition but worked to develop the vessel in advance and support the team from afar took away valuable skills from the experience.  

“When people think of a robotics team, the first things that come to mind are the physical assembly of the robot and programming of the software.  Another large part that not many people think of is the logistics, planning, and decision making that has to be made in addition to the direct aspects of the robot/boat,” said Kyle Jacob, a computer science and engineering student who supported the team from San Diego. “For example, in addition to my other duties on the team, I spent a lot of time coordinating with battery vendors, shipping companies, and sponsors. Based on the team’s work, we received an “Excellence in Logistics” award for how well we managed shipping a several thousand pound boat and all the electronics halfway around the world.” 

Students testing their autonomous vessel during the competition.

Mabel Szeto, an undergraduate cognitive science student on the team, said that the opportunity to work alongside and even collaborate with teams from around the world was another unique opportunity the students were able to experience. 

“It was amazing to see how teams from all around the world helped each other,” said Mabel Szeto. “Some teams’ boats did not arrive in Australia on time or didn’t arrive at all. Multiple teams partnered together to create a working system to get into the water by integrating together electronics systems onto another team’s boat and into the air by pairing a team that only had their boat with a team with only their drone. Seeing this level of collaboration with the caliber of students competing is something very special.”

Fausto also appreciated the collaborative nature of the challenge, noting that the range of experience and backgrounds involved meant that there was a role for everyone, and always someone to learn from. 

“One thing that I liked was the wide experience and background range in the team, from highschoolers, undergraduate and graduate students, to recent grads,” said Fausto. “We also had mentors who have been in industry for over 20 years. No matter what your experience level was going in, you had the opportunity to learn from other people within and outside the team.”

To get involved, contact the Triton AI student organization


Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering