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Students develop SAR driverless boats

The QUT team in the Maritime RobotX Challenge The QUT team in the Maritime RobotX Challenge Queensland University of Technology

Australian students are developing “driverless boats that can think for themselves in an emergency,” reports the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane.

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QUT robotics students are designing autonomous boats that could soon be able to perform search-and-rescue operations in rough seas, says Dr Matt Dunbabin, their team advisor. The young scientists will compete in the Maritime RobotX Challenge from October 20-26 in Singapore.

"This competition is a test bed for creating the technology needed to build robotic boats that perform the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs human mariners can't or don't want to do,” Dr Dunbabin said.

"The technologies we're developing for the competition we believe will one day save lives on the water.”

"This generation of boats will be the first to perform search-and rescue activities in cyclonic weather, for instance, when it's too dangerous for emergency services personnel to be on the water," said the principal research fellow at QUT.

"Like a plane on autopilot, current autonomous boats can get from point A to point B but they aren't capable of working in changing environments where the unforeseen can happen."

Each of the 15 teams (three each from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and the United States) have been provided with a standard surface vessel that they have equipped with their own sensors, hardware and software to complete five missions. The pre-assigned tasks range from simple navigation through to complex docking and detect-and-avoid manoeuvres.

"We're essentially using our own know-how to put the Google driverless car into a boat," said third-year mechatronics student Riki Lamont.

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