September 6, 2006

C.U. Underwater Vehicle Delves Into Competition

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High-tech robots roaming the deep abyss may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but Cornell students are helping to make this fantasy into a reality.
The 40 members of the Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team work together to design and build robotic submarines. While there are five faculty advisors for the group, decisions are made directly by the students on the team.
Ian Wang ’07, CUAV team leader, said, “[CUAV] is a relatively new field, so a lot of things we’re doing, we can’t really do in class. A lot of what we do isn’t publishable work, it’s pretty novel. And that’s what makes it really cool, we’re doing a lot of ground breaking work.”
CUAUV competes annually in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Underwater Vehicle competition in August in a “technological showdown,” according to the organization’s website.
The competition consists of four major tasks, which all test the vehicles for various underwater capabilities. The vehicles are ranked in two categories, design and implementation and overall performance. CUAUV won the overall competition in 2003, and has won the design and implementation award for the last five years.
“Our team’s design has always been very innovative, and researchers have always commended us on our engineering work,” said Wang.
This year the team is making a new vehicle, which is only done every other year due to limited funding. In the years between, team members improve the car for the competition. Last year’s vehicle, SeaMonkey, won the design and implementation award, but placed seventh overall due to an underwater motor failure; the design for the new car this year is focusing on avoiding that problem. CUAUV plans to build a smaller and lighter submarine, which is both more easily transportable and more reliable.
CUAUV has been a very successful project team in the past, with high goals for the future.
“We’re consistently a team which is ranked in the top three, a team the other teams look out for,” said Wang.
The team consists of about 30 engineers and about 10 to 12 non-engineers. There are three engineering subgroups: mechanical, electrical and software.
The mechanical subgroup works on the physical components of the vehicle, focusing on its overall structure and integrity. Members in the electrical subgroup deal with the system of power associated with the vehicle, and the software subgroup is in charge of programming the vehicle.
There is also one business subgroup, in which many of the non-engineers organize the funding and equipment needed for the vehicle.
Alex Acerra ’09, a member of the business subgroup of CUAUV, highlighted some of the opportunities the group provides, saying, “[CUAUV] lets you experience aspects of business that are normally reserved for experienced businessmen. Managing accounts of corporate sponsors is something most people can’t experience as students.”