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Next generation robotic boats aim for autonomy at sea

Editorial
article image The robotic boat will be tested against global competitors in the first-ever international marine robotics competition in Singapore come October 2014.

QUT researchers are building driverless boats with the AI capabilities to "think" for themselves during emergency situations.

The robotic boat will be tested against global competitors in the first-ever international marine robotics competition in Singapore come October 2014.

The QUT team is one of 15 selected from universities in five countries, and a strong contender among Australia's three entries.

According to QUT roboticist Dr Matt Dunbabin, the competition has a focus on improving the autonomy of robotic marine vehicles, so they can perform real-world, real-environment tasks, such as searching for debris or oil slicks and finding people in rough seas.

Current autonomous boats can navigate from point to point using GPS, but are not able to adapt to changing environments or unforeseen circumstances.

Eventually the researchers hope to have a fleet of robotic boats that can perform the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs at sea that their human counterparts cannot.

The boats the researchers are working on will be the first to attempt search-and rescue-activities in cyclonic weather when it's too dangerous for emergency services personnel to be on the water.

The Maritime RobotX Challenge will see QUT and other competitors put their robot boats through five marine missions, ranging from simple navigation through to complex docking and detect-and-avoid manoeuvres.

The teams are working on supplied boat frames, with each team customising their units with their own designed and developed sensors, hardware and software needed to complete the missions.

QUT's team is seeking sponsorship from local businesses to cover the costs of freighting the smart boat to Singapore for the competition, as well as for some specific marine equipment.

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