Team SONIA Lands Elusive RoboSub Win

July 19, 2011 - via AUVSI

July 19, 2011

It’s been 11 years in the making, including four third-place and two second-place results, but team SONIA from the École de technologie superieure has finally achieved what has escaped it for so long — a first-place win at the AUVSI Foundation’s RoboSub contest.

With the win, SONIA not only trumped history but also a very strong team from Cornell University, winners of the last two years of the competition, held once again this year at SPAWAR San Diego’s TRANSDEC facility.

Competing with an all-new sub design, new mechanical and electrical configurations, and mostly new software didn’t phase the team much, according to team leader Kevin Larose, especially since the 26-person team logged around 250 hours in the pool before coming to the competition.

“Last year we wanted to achieve all the obstacles, and we’ve worked on them individually,” says Larose. “When we arrived here, to try to do them one after the other was our main challenge, so this year what we did is we started to work on chaining each obstacle right in the beginning of the year. .... So this year the vehicle is a lot more reliable and a lot more stable, so we know what it’s going to do because we’ve been chaining obstacles since a very long time now.”

Unlike many of the teams at RoboSub that had to battle San Diego’s constantly changing cloud coverage, SONIA perfected the art by archiving imagery and readjusting their sensors accordingly for their practice and final runs. “The first thing we did was record images with clouds, with sun and different lighting conditions, and as long as we know what it is beforehand, we will be able to adjust our camera even though it’s very bright or cloudy,” says Larose.

SONIA, which is a French acronym for an intelligent and autonomous underwater system, is now looking to become repeat winners of the competition for 2012, with none of the undergraduate students set to leave next year.

Not only the most capable team at RoboSub, SONIA also focused on befriending other teams and helping them become more robust where they could.

“You don’t have a lot of pool time, and if your stuff doesn’t work here, they won’t start magically working during the week,” says Larose. “So we feel that it would be a shame that people come from so far, and arrive here and they don’t get the parts that we need, so we try to help them as much as we can, lend them stuff and make sure everyone is capable of proving what they can do.”

One of those teams turned a normally game-ending disaster into a fourth place win. Reykjavik University's sub flooded on the first qualifying run, but the team rallied to rebuild it overnight to qualify for the finals. Only the second year the team has participated in the competition, Reykjavik used its creativity to get its sub up and running again in time to qualify after the initial tragedy.

“We had some spare parts, we got extremely lucky,” says team leader Gudmundur Viktorsson. “It seems most of the electronics shorted out before being destroyed, so we used about half of the components back again. And just we rinsed everything out [and] did some damage assessment. The electrical team stayed up all night just fixing our makeshift rack. We used our file server we had onsite as the boat’s computer so we had to make do with that.” Their sub, Freyja, named after the Norse goddess of love and fertility, fit the 14th annual competition’s theme, Robo Love.

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Author:Danielle Lucey