Villanova Engineers Pursue RobotX Win in Hawaii

Villanova members of Team WORX work with advisors Drs. C. Nataraj and Garrett Clayton.
Villanova members of Team WORX work with advisors Drs. C. Nataraj and Garrett Clayton.

In December 2016, 18 teams competitively selected from six Pacific Rim countries—Australia, China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States—will travel to Oahu, Hawaii for the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) second RobotX competition. Organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), RobotX challenges teams to outfit a Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel (WAM-V) capable of intelligently navigating the seascape. Villanova University, together with Florida Atlantic University (FAU), is one of three American teams chosen to compete for the second time.

In the RobotX challenge, each team is provided with a 16-ft WAM-V, which they must outfit with a range of sensors, software and hardware to facilitate on-board decision-making and mission implementation. Obstacle avoidance, navigation, object identification, etc. are among the tasks that must be completed without human guidance, intervention or remote control.

Dividing responsibilities as they did for the first competition, FAU will manage the systems engineering and low-level control portions of the project, while Villanova will work on high-level control, vision-based navigation, localization and mapping. A multidisciplinary endeavor, Villanova’s eight-person team—led by C. Nataraj, PhD, professor and director of the Villanova Center for the Analytics of Dynamic Systems—includes computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering undergraduates and graduate students.

In 2014, Villanova and Florida Atlantic University participated in the inaugural AUVSI Foundation Maritime RobotX Challenge as Team WORX. Their American competitors were MIT-Olin and Embry-Riddle. Team WORX performed extremely well in this competition, walking away with four prizes, and subsequently earning an invitation to compete in Hawaii in 2016.

Dr. Nataraj is thrilled for the opportunity, though he acknowledges the challenges, not the least of which is financial. “I estimate that the competition will cost us about $100,000, both to outfit the vessel with the necessary technology, and to pay for the team’s travel.” The College’s Assistant Dean of External Relations, Keith Argue, notes that the University has pledged its support: “Villanova and the College of Engineering have committed $30,000 to the RobotX project, which we are grateful for. We hope to raise the rest of the funds through corporate and individual donations.”

To learn more about RobotX and Villanova’s work in autonomous vehicle R&D, please contact keith.argue@villanova.edu. You can also refer to articles from the 2014 RobotX competition:

Villanova-FAU Team to Represent the U.S. in International Robotics Competition” (October 2013)

A Villanova team takes robotics on the water” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/11/14)

Students Push Ocean Robotics Envelope in New Global Game” (Office of Naval Research, 10/20/14)

"RobotX Challenges Provides Unforgettable Experience for Villanova Engineers" (October 2014)

Charting New Waters” (Villanova Magazine, Winter 2015)