Yuki Sekimori (The University of Tokyo) and Toshihiro Maki (Beacon Associate Editor, The University of Tokyo)
The Underwater Robot Convention in JAMSTEC 2020 was held at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) on 5-6 December 2020 by NPO Japan Underwater Robot Network [1, 2]. The event aims to establish a forum for participants to exchange technical ideas and build networks through the presentations and the competition of the self-built underwater robots. At the same time, the underwater robot seminar aims to provide an opportunity for them to stipulate the interest and deepen the understanding of underwater robot and underwater technology. Although the event was held mainly online this year [Figure 1], it was a lively event, and we hosted a comparable number of participants to the previous years. It was our first time to hold the event online, but the event was smoothly organized. We earned a valuable experience that would be beneficial for the conventions in the future.
In this year’s convention, we held two divisions of the competition: The General Competition (Free) Division and The Junior Division, and the underwater robot seminar [Table 1]. The Free Division is targeted towards university students and the public, and the contestant teams compete for technical aspects and originality. The Junior Division is targeted towards middle school, high school, and technical college students, and the teams compete for the strategy of picking up submerged cans within a time limit. Some of the contestant teams from the Free Division were given the opportunity to demonstrate their robot in the multipurpose pool at the Yokosuka Headquarters of the JAMSTEC [Figure 2]. The AUV Division was not held this year because the Techno-Ocean 2020 robot competition in October was cancelled due to the COVID-19 infection control measures. This year’s AI Challenge Division was also cancelled for the same reason. Unlike the previous years, we did not provide subsidies to middle school and high school students participating from afar.
As aforementioned, we hosted 212 participants this year, which was comparable to 235 participants last year. The number of contestant teams decreased because the AI Challenge Division was cancelled. However, we expanded the underwater robotics community through hosting new contestant teams from afar, and we reconfirmed the benefits of an online event.
Table 1. Event schedule
Saturday December 5th
Underwater Robot Seminar
Workshop (Free Division)
Workshop (Junior Division)
Sunday December 6th
Free Demo (Free Division)
Demo at JAMSTEC (Free Division), Avatar Demo
Review Session (Junior Division)
Awards and Closing Ceremony
2. Free Division
13 teams contested in the Free Division this year compared to 10 teams last year. In the workshop on the first day, each contestant team presented the concept, the features, and the technical aspects of its project, followed by a question-and-answer (Q&A) session. In the demonstration on the second day, each team presented the maneuvering of the robot. The presentation videos are available to the public on the Japan Underwater Robot Network’s YouTube Channel . We saw many biomimicry robots of marine organism such as squids and rays [Figure 3, Figure 4]. As aforementioned, we had active discussions during the Q&A sessions of the workshop and the demonstration. Moreover, 4 contestant teams demonstrated the robots in the multipurpose pool at the Yokosuka Headquarter of the JAMSTEC [Figure 2]. As a COVID-19 infection control measure, we allowed the maximum of 3 members per team to enter the venue.
Table 2. Free Division evaluation criteria
Presentation: 50 points
Points given for the quality of the poster and the workshop presentation.
Evaluated the layout of the poster, technical contents, visibility, diction, understandability, and Q&A of the presentation.
Competition: 50 points
Evaluated the contents of the demonstration comprehensively.
Table 3. Free Division results
Team Blue (Aichi Institute of Technology) [Figure 3] Runner-up
Dolphin Creator (No affiliation) [Figure 4] Second runner-up
Team Green (Aichi Institute of Technology)
3. Junior Division
The Junior Division was held completely online. Unlike the previous years, we could not distribute the design kit this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we asked the contestant teams to remodel the robot using the kit provided in the previous years. Although the design kits were not distributed, we shared an open-sourced method on how to build the robot. Thus, all the contestant teams were able to present with a physical robot. We set the presentation assignment: “The strategy that you would have implemented if the competition was held in person as usual”, such that the contestant teams without the kit can participate. We ranked the presentations  by the level of achievement of the assignment [Table 4], and we awarded the Best Presentation Award and the Special Encouragement Award [Table 5]. We collected the votes from all participants for the Best Presentation Award so that the participants feel inclusive to the event. We received 28 questionnaire responses: 19 of them were mutual evaluation by the Junior Division contestants, and the rest was from the spectators. The Special Encouragement Award provided the new contestant teams with the advantage of the priority to receive the design kit next year. Like the Free Division, in the workshop on the first day, each team presented the project via online, followed by the Q&A session. We had a review session from the lecturers on the second day.
Table 4. Junior Division evaluation criteria
Strategy: 40 points
Evaluated the realizability of the robot based on the structural integrity. Extra points given to the teams without the design kit for the theoretical discussions of the realizability and the partial prototyping.
Mechanical study: 40 points
Evaluated the theoretical study of the maneuvering of the robot under the physical constraints.
Others: 20 points
Evaluated the motivation, teamwork, scheduling, and efforts.
Table 5. Junior Division results
Shinkai 6.0 (Shibaura Institute of Technology Senior High School) [Figure 5].
Minamata High School, Machinery Section, Engineering Department (Kumamoto Prefecture Minamata High School)
Best Presentation Award
Tokyo Tech High School of Science and Technology, Freshman Volunteers [Figure 6].
Special Encouragement Award
Tokyo Tech High School of Science and Technology, Freshman Volunteers [Figure 6]
Sagae Sakurambo (Yamagata Prefectural Sagae Technical High School)
4. Online Seminar
In the morning of the first day, we held an online seminar comprised of 3 lectures. We had about 110 participants, which is more than the number of participants in the previous years. Below are the lecture series:
(1) New breakthrough in the polar science by the unmanned surveying technology. Presented by Prof. Yoshihumi Nogi (National Institute of Polar Research)
(2) Meeting for the promotion of the social implementation of Ocean Avatars. Presented by Dr. Hiroshi Yoshida (JAMSTEC). Live from the Fukushima Robot Testing Field (RTF).
(3) Real-time processing and robotics application of convolutional neural network for image processing. Presented by Mr. Yuichiro Niwa (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency).
This year, we collaborated with “The second meeting for the promotion of the social implementation of Ocean Avatars” held at the Fukushima RTF by linking the two venues via the internet. During the demonstration session in the afternoon of the second day, an underwater robot in the multipurpose pool at the Yokosuka Headquarters of the JAMSTEC was remotely controlled from the Fukushima RTF via the internet. The transmission latency was marginal, and we did not feel like the robot was controlled online. Together, we were able to livestream a smooth maneuvering of the robot.
5. Benefits and challenges of an online convention
The online form was venturous for a convention that includes a competition of physical robots, exchange of technical ideas, and networking. It was a new learning experience for both the participants and the organizers. We outlined some of the key benefits and challenges of hosting an online convention.
One of the benefits was that the participants actively asked questions during the workshops. It seemed like the participants found the online format easier to ask questions. The second benefit was the high degree of completeness. Most of the contestant teams presented a fully functioning robot. This is probably because the teams had to submit the demo video a week before the convention, so they could not improvise. In addition, we were able to host more participants from afar than the previous years.
On the other hand, we encountered some challenges, too. Although we had more questions during the Q&A sessions, it was difficult to establish a platform for interpersonal interactions among the participants. The Q&A sessions were rather formal because all the participants were listening. In an online platform, it was challenging for us to provide an environment for free and casual discussions. Furthermore, the video demo could never be as exciting as the at-the-venue demo because only a limited amount of information was conveyed over a video clip.
The Underwater Robot Convention in JAMSTEC 2020 was successful. Overall, we were excited to see well-designed and high-quality robots from many of the contestant teams. In the Free Division, we were able expand the underwater robotics community through hosting contestants from afar. In the Junior Division, we were able to see a strong supportive network of the contestant teams. The contestants overcame many challenges that they faced due to the COVID-19 infection control measures. Under the restrictions due to the COVID-19 infection control measures, we had to hold the event online and postpone the event to December; however, the event was fruitful in various aspects. All the contestants put great effort into creating an ingenious underwater robot while adjusting to the online format. As a master’s student involved in the competition organization, I (Yuki Sekimori) [Figure 7] was able to learn from observing how the executive members communicate effectively and make decisions to prepare for and carry though the event. In addition, I was inspired by many of the innovative underwater robot concepts presented during the convention. I look forward to seeing the contestants continue to innovate and be involved in underwater robotics, possibly working together with them in the future. Regardless of the circumstances, we will continue to promote, encourage, and support students and the public to fulfill one’s intellectual curiosity and to demonstrate ingenuity through the underwater robotics convention.
The Underwater Robot Convention in JAMSTEC in 2020 was supported by IEEE/OES Japan Chapter, MTS Japan Section, Techno-Ocean Network, The Japan Society of Naval Architects and Ocean Engineers, JAMSTEC, The Nippon Foundation, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokosuka City, Tokyo University of Marine Sciences and Technologies, Center for Integrated Underwater Observation Technology at Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, Fukushima RTF, Aqua Modelers Meeting, and Matsuyama Industry Co., Ltd. We would like to express our sincere appreciation to the sponsors for their strong support and cooperation in realizing this competition.
References Japan Underwater Robot Network (in Japanese). [Online]. Available: underwaterrobonet.org/  Underwater Robot Convention in JAMSTEC 2020 (in Japanese). [Online]. Available: jam20.underwaterrobonet.org/  Underwater Robot Convention 2020 (in Japanese). Japan Underwater Robot Network YouTube Channel. [Online]. Available: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7niPiAIqUjrsPu3okWw2If9ppS44WqED