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VIMS helps host international robotic-boats competition

  • Robotic boat
    Robotic boat  Autonomous Surface Vehicle (robotic boat) uses computer vision to dock with a target in the 2009 competition.  Photo by Mark Patterson
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College students from the United States and Taiwan will bring their robotic boats to Virginia Beach from June 10-13 to compete for up to $20,000 in prize money during the 3rd International Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) Competition.

The event, sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation, will take place at the Founder's Inn and Spa.

Dr. Mark Patterson, Director of the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at the College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), will serve as the event's local host. Patterson, winner of the Marine Technology Society's 2008 Lockheed Martin Award for Ocean Science and Engineering, is a marine biologist with patents in autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) technology and neural-network recognition of targets from side-scan sonar.

During the competition, the small lake on the resort's property is turned into an obstacle course that challenges the robotic boats to perform a series of progressively harder tasks that simulate the types of activities that are expected of robotic craft being built for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

Patterson says "Observers gain a new appreciation for what may appear as relatively easy tasks when they learn that the boats must complete the course without any human guidance or intervention."

Daryl Davidson, executive director of the AUVSI Foundation, adds "Nothing challenges and teaches like this type of hands-on activity. It serves as a great recruiting ground for companies involved in the field of robotics."

Patterson says that Hampton Roads provides a fitting home for the competition given its leadership position in development of autonomous marine technology. Local leaders in the field include Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, the Navy Autonomous Maritime Navigation Program at the Naval Surface Warfare Combatant Craft Division in Virginia Beach, SAIC, Oceana Sensor, and VIMS.

The popularity of the competition is shown by the growth from 7 teams in 2009 to 13 teams this year. Competing teams include defending champion University of Central Florida as well as 2 new entries from Old Dominion University and a team from Virginia Tech. Hampton Roads technology businesses are helping sponsor the event.

Based in Washington, DC, the AUVSI Foundation is an education-oriented charity that organizes and sponsors 7 annual robotic-related student competitions. The Foundation supports the goals and objectives of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the world's largest and oldest trade association devoted to advancing the use of unmanned systems.

VIMS, one of the largest marine centers in the U.S., provides research, education, and advisory service to help protect and restore Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters. The Institute offers Master's and Ph.D. degrees through its School of Marine Science, part of the College of William and Mary. Patterson's Autonomous Systems Laboratory at VIMS aims to advance marine science by creating the next generation of AUVs and ASVs and by developing methods for using them to explore the world's oceans.

For more information on the Competition, including a schedule and links to the team websites, visit