Asee peer logo

Designing an AUV Competition to Draw Engineering Students Towards Ocean Engineering

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Oceans & Marine Technical Session

Tagged Division

Ocean and Marine

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.440.1 - 22.440.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


James W. Bales Massachusetts Institute of Technology

visit author page

Dr. Bales was the inaugural Technical Director of ONR and AUVSI's Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition. He is the Assistant Director at MIT's Edgerton Center, a center dedicated to hands-on, project-based learning.

visit author page

author page

David Novick Sandia National Labs

Download Paper |


Designing an AUV Competition to Draw Engineering Students Towards Ocean Engineering James W. Bales (MIT) and David K. Novick (Sandia National Laboratory)The First International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Competition took place in thesummer of 1998, under the sponsorship of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and theAssociation for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The competition has been held everysummer since then, and the fourteenth iteration (AUVSI Foundation & ONR's 14th InternationalRoboSub Competition) will take place in July, 2011, at the U.S. Navy’s SSC PacificTRANSDEC Facility in San Diego, CA. The goals of the competition is to provide opportunitiesfor students to experience the challenges of system engineering, to develop skill inaccomplishing realistic missions with autonomous vehicles, and to foster relationships betweenyoung engineers and the organizations developing and producing autonomous systems. In this paper we describe the evolution of the design of the competition itself over the years,highlighting the common features that have been retained as advancing the goals of the event,and noting features that have been discarded. Throughout the years, the design has focused onthe following critical needs: • The competition has to interest and engage today’s students, and do so against the myriad other activities and opportunities at their disposal • The task must provide a reasonably open design space so that there is no obviously right solution to the challenge • The task must require teams to address some of the real challenges faced in the marine environment, scaled to their skill level • The organizers must create a social environment that simultaneously nourishes community building between teams, yet promotes the competitive spirit that helps motivate the teams and adds to the overall fun and excitement • The scoring structure must provided tiered goals, so that even a novice team, with zero experience in marine robotics, can experience the success of achieving the initial goals. Roughly, those tiers are: o Can the vehicle submerge and follow a desired trajectory? o Can the vehicle carry out a pre-programmed task? o Can the vehicle sense its environment through one or more sensing modalities and return some information about that environment to its operators? o Can the vehicle sense its environment through one or more sensing modalities and, based on its sensory inputs, interact with its environment? • The competition itself must be visually interesting and exciting for the teams, onlookers, and the press.There is a dynamic tension in trying to simultaneously satisfy all of these constraints, as we willillustrate through the evolution of the competition over the years. We found that one of thecritical elements of success was locating a competition site that had the following characteristics.The competition requires a relatively large, generally shallow, body of water with good visibility,flat space around for team work tents that are on site for several days of practice runs, reasonableaccess to amenities, and open for the general public for the competition itself. Once the site ispicked, then the competition rules can be designed to work within the constraints of the site.Contact:James W. Bales, Ph.D.Assistant Director and InstructorMIT Edgerton Center, Room 4-40677 Massachusetts AvenueCambridge, MA 02139(617) 253-6178 (V)(617) 253-1535 (F)bales@mit.edu

Bales, J. W., & Novick, D. (2011, June), Designing an AUV Competition to Draw Engineering Students Towards Ocean Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17721

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015