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An Open-source Autonomous Vessel for Maritime Research

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Ocean and Marine Engineering Division: Best Paper Technical Session

Tagged Division

Ocean and Marine

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Robert Kidd State University of New York

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Dr. Kidd completed his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Florida in 2011, 2013, and 2015 respectively. He worked at the Center for Intelligent Machines and Robotics at UF from 2009 to 2015 researching the use autonomous ground vehicles including ATVs, a Toyota Highlander, and a tracked loader. He has taught at SUNY Maritime College since 2015 running the capstone design sequence for mechanical engineers. His research interests include additive manufacturing, fault-tolerant control, artificial immune systems, and autonomous ground vehicles and surface vessels.

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As autonomy becomes increasingly prevalent in the maritime industry, students entering the field will need to receive advanced training in this area. While there is a consensus that this change is coming and will be revolutionary, there isn’t a consensus on exactly how it will come. This uncertainty means that academic institutions are hesitant to fund new advanced training programs until they are certain what they should look like. This means a significant skills gap is projected, as most recent graduates in the field have little or no experience with the fundamentals of coding or autonomy. To deal with this, academic institutions need to be proactively building the infrastructure to prepare the next generation of maritime engineers even as the industry evolves, and they must do so with limited funds. To address this challenge, this work details efforts to develop an independently deployable autonomous vessel which is generated through combining existing open source resources. The vessel can be used as a low-cost solution for researching and teaching autonomy in the maritime environment and can also be used as an autonomous vessel to perform scientific research in inaccessible areas without requiring experience with coding or autonomy. The base vessel is a 3D-printed hull with customizable inserts for different research applications and hardware configurations. This allows educators to either follow the instructions for a generic vessel or tailor it to their own needs. A specific implementation will be provided which incorporates an existing sensor package for use by environmental researchers. The add-on sensor package includes dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH measurements which are tied to GPS location data. Without the sensor package, the vessel costs below $500 and can be built by students with limited technical knowledge. Low-level hardware control is performed through ArduPilot, an open source software package that allows unmanned control of aircraft, ground vehicles, surface vessels, and underwater vessels. A user can select waypoints for the vessel to visit using a point-and-click interface overlaid on a map. The vessel then navigates to these points using ArduPilot for steering and throttle control while sensors continuously collect data. The high-level autonomy is provided by MOOS-IvP, an open source project from MIT for unmanned vessels. This high-level autonomy can augment the low-level autonomy and can be programmed to allow the vessel to obey the basic rules of navigation. The low-level autonomy is sufficient for most data collection applications such as water quality testing. The high-level autonomy allows researchers to extend the software and perform cutting-edge research on making autonomous vessels behave more like human-operated vessels, but it is not required for point-to-point navigation. A first-iteration vessel is generated by engineering students and faculty before being given to undergraduate environmental science researchers. The performance of the design is evaluated by these non-engineers for both function and operability. Their recommendations are detailed along with design and construction information. After the engineers complete revisions to the design, a second-iteration vessel will be constructed by non-engineering students to evaluate the ease of construction.

Kidd, R. (2020, June), An Open-source Autonomous Vessel for Maritime Research Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34142

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