March 2024 OES Beacon

IEEE OES University of Zagreb SBC – Charting New Horizons Through Innovation and Collaboration

Igor Kvasić, Vladimir Slošić, Luka Mandić, Juraj Obradović, Matko Batoš, Kristijan Krčmar, Matej Fabijanić   

All participants of the BTS Workshop 2023; Beautiful Kotor Bay in the background where multiple demos were conducted for the participants of the workshop.

In the past six months, the IEEE OES University of Zagreb Student Branch Chapter (SBC) has organized and participated in a series of events aimed at deeper understanding and appreciation of marine robotics within our community, particularly among young individuals. These events, which included workshops, lectures, competitions and demonstrations, sought to bridge the gap between theory and practical application in the field of marine robotics.

Among the many milestones achieved during this period, one standout moment was our remarkable success in the prestigious MBZIRC robotics challenge. This achievement not only exemplified our chapter’s commitment to excellence, but also showcased the dedication and talent of our members in pushing the boundaries of innovation in robotics.

2023 was filled with interesting events from science fairs, expert visits and lectures,and culminating with Breaking the Surface 2023, our flagship event dedicated to advancing marine robotics and facilitating collaboration among experts and enthusiasts.

IEEE OES University of Zagreb SBC team together with OES Treasurer William Kirkwood and Vice-President for Workshops and Symposia Fausto Ferreira

Breaking the Surface Workshop 2023

After 14 consecutive editions in Croatia, the international workshop of marine robotics and its applications, “Breaking the Surface” (BtS), was held for the first time outside Croatia, on the coast of Montenegro. The location shift proved to be a resounding success, marking a visit of over 200 experts and visitors from various marine disciplines congregated in the picturesque scenery of the Kotor bay in Montenegro. This interdisciplinary field workshop, focused on maritime robotics and applications, attracted professionals spanning maritime robotics, marine biology, maritime archaeology, maritime security, and marine geology from 23 countries worldwide. Over the course of seven days, participants were treated to an agenda featuring 15 plenary lectures, 8 tutorials, and 6 hands-on demos across 3 parallel program tracks.

Each morning, attendees could enjoy engaging plenary talks from expert speakers, intertwined by coffee breaks fostering new networking opportunities. The afternoons were filled with hands-on tutorials, always amusing practical demos and insightful company presentations from marine industry leaders. Since BtS is well known for its social events, evenings were reserved for an array of activities, including the chapter’s signature IEEE OES party, which kicked off the week, International Night, Pub Quiz, Karaoke Night and of course a closing ceremony to acknowledge the most deserving for yet another successful edition of BtS followed by the gala dinner. Saturday, usually reserved for the traditional field trip, saw participants embarking on a panoramic boat cruise around the beautiful Boka Bay, complemented with stops to the Lady of the Rocks island and historic city of Kotor. 

Hackathon participants listening to the introductory presentation

Challenges and Competitions at BtS

As proud co-organizers of this official IEEE OES event, the IEEE OES UniZg Student Branch Chapter as usual facilitated the involvement of our student members and volunteers, enhancing the overall experience with diverse activities and opportunities for engagement. As the event introduced in the previous year’s, the Acoustic Localization Challenge, proved to be an interesting addition for participants, especially students, we decided to keep it in the programme. The competition requires participants to employ the best strategy in identifying the most accurate position estimate of a submerged acoustic pinger. This year, participants in the localization challenge were asked to locate a submerged miniature transponder using 2-way acoustic ranging. The groups were given an acoustic modem to interrogate the transponder, a GPS receiver, and access to a fast vessel to operate their localization methodology. The teams analyzed the collected range data on the boat and offline to estimate the position, and presented their methods and results on the final day of the workshop. The teams competed on three aspects: (1) a race to locate the transponder most quickly, (2) the most accurate final position after post-processing, and (3) the most innovative localization strategy. Experts accompanied the participating groups during their preparation, data collection, and analysis, and hydrophones were used to provide real-time visualization of the acoustic traffic in the water.

Different activities during the BTS 2023; Demonstration site, presentation from our speakers and participants having fun in different activities

A new addition to this year’s edition was the 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, a challenge where participants learned how to extract the most important information from a complex topic such as their PhD’s and present it in the most interesting manner to a broad audience in under 3 minutes. The 3MT was an initiative aimed at improving students’ research presentation skills in an elevator pitch style. Each student had 3 minutes to present his/her thesis using a single presentation slide. The event included a tutorial on pitch making, where participants learned how to open their pitch, structure it, and deliver data effectively. The second workshop included hands-on experience in pitch making with expert feedback. Participants had the opportunity to refine their pitches with guidance from experts. On the last day of the workshop a distinguished referee team from academia and industry, as well as the audience, evaluated the three best pitches with great rewards.

The second addition was a hackathon focused on solving problems relevant to blue economy areas, in this case developing algorithms for detection and identification of phytoplankton in ocean samples. 

From insightful lectures to hands-on demonstrations, student competitions and vibrant social gatherings, BtS 2023 exemplified the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and networking, setting the stage for future achievements in maritime robotics and beyond.

Anja Babić with the IEEE Croatia Section Student Volunteer  Award

Special awards from IEEE Croatia Section and University of Zagreb Senate

On November 15, 2023, our former SBC president Anja Babić was awarded the IEEE Croatia Section Student Volunteer Award. The award was given out at the IEEE Croatia Section annual gala dinner and award ceremony held at Hotel International in Zagreb. Anja started volunteering within IEEE as a member back in 2014. Since then, she has been actively participating in international IEEE conferences by presenting papers, and in 2019 she participated in the judging jury of the OCEANS 2019 student poster competition. Seeing the lack of existence of a local community in the field of ocean sciences, in 2019 she played one of the key roles in founding and establishing our OES UniZg SBC. From its foundation until March 2023, Anja Babić served as the president of the branch. She distinguished herself by her contribution to the branch and the community through a series of valuable activities. The number of members of the branch grew from year to year, and 24 expert lectures and workshops were organized over the course of four years. In addition to numerous volunteer duties, work in classes and research projects, this year she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “A hyper-heuristic approach to achieving long-term autonomy in a heterogeneous swarm of marine robots” under the mentorship of prof. Ph.D. Nikola Misković. Her student journey ends there, and thus her active involvement in the leadership of the student section, but her contribution remains invaluable.

On the occasion of the celebration of University Day in Zagreb, in the ceremonial hall of the Regional Center for the Development of Entrepreneurial Competences for Southeast European Countries – SEECEL, 08.11.2023. a solemn session of the Senate was held as part of the University Week. During the session, special awards were also given to students and professors who contributed to the University during the past academic year or during many years of work. A Special Student award was given to our member and webmaster Matej Fabijanić, a graduate student in Software Engineering and Information Systems, for his international success in scientific and professional work as part of Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technology in the scope of the HEKTOR project, and for having published papers at the international peer-reviewed conference OCEANS 2022 Hampton Roads and in Q1 MDPI JMSE 2023 Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

OES UniZg SBC member Matej Fabijanic

Presentation of marine technologies at the University of Zagreb Fair 2023

OES UniZg SBC members Matej Fabijanić, Matko Batoš, Marko Barišić, Kristijan Krčmar, and Mak Gračić, together with associates, presented not only our research laboratory and equipment but also the whole Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (FER) at this year’s edition of the University of Zagreb Fair from November 9th to 11th. They showcased their student demo about the remote control of the Blueye Pro ROV from the Fair to our lab pool that had an obstacle course to test the piloting skills of the interested Fair visitors.

Visitors had the opportunity to see and try out other selected student demos and talk with students attending FER to get useful information.  Interest in FER was not only shown by high-school graduates, but there were various ages of children and adults who were interested in what FER offers. We hope that we have helped all interested visitors in the difficult decision that awaits them at the end of this school year, and next year we are waiting for you with new interesting demos. 

OES UniZg members won the USV Obstacle Detection Challenge

We are proud to announce that two members of OES UniZg SBC won the USV Obstacle Detection Challenge track organized by the University of Tübingen and the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Computer and Information Science. The challenge was to detect various objects on the surface of water and correctly classify them into various categories.

Matej Fabijanić and Magdalena Šimunec, the authors of the winning method, will be featured as co-authors in the challenge results paper. The results of the method will also be featured in the Maritime Computer Vision (MaCVi) workshop at the IEEE/CVF Winter Conference on Applications of Computer Vision (WACV) 2024 held in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

IEEE OES team at the University of Zagreb Fair with the University Rector

Expert visits and invited lectures at the University of Zagreb

The IEEE OES University of Zagreb Student Branch Chapter, in collaboration with the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies, organized many inspiring lectures at the University of Zagreb. Dr. Antonio Vasiljević came to give a talk on the topic “How research infrastructure projects can boost research and education activities and expand the project portfolio.” Dr. Antonio Vasilijević is a research project manager and the leader of the Applied Underwater Robotics Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He is responsible for the Lab operation, full lifecycle of research projects, and building strong links with the industry.

In November Dr. Ivan Stenius, Associate Professor at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, arrived to give a lecture titled “From Subsea to Space: Integrated Research in Maritime and Space Robotics.” Dr. Stenius specializes in hydroelasticity and fluid-structure interactions for high-speed craft. Presently, Dr. Stenius’s expertise encompasses multidisciplinary development of innovative maritime solutions, merging hydrodynamics, electric propulsion, robotics, and the dynamics of underactuated systems to create agile underwater robots, and advanced hydrofoiling concepts. In recent years, he’s been instrumental in advancing research in underwater technology and maritime robotics at KTH and currently serves as the PI for the Swedish Maritime Robotics Centre (SMaRC).

Result of the competition, detection of the various objects on the surface of the water

During November and December, the workshop “Tools for efficient academic research” was being held at the University of Zagreb by Professor Roee Diamant from University of Haifa. Participants, mostly Ph.D. students and researchers, could learn many good practices for efficient academic research, writing papers and many of the challenges that researchers face along the way. The workshop consisted of 5 lectures in which Professor Diamant presented his knowledge in the form of structured tools that he gathered through his impressive career as a researcher. As the Professor has reviewed and written hundreds of conference and journal papers, many students and external participants found it extremely useful and participated in the lectures.

Multiple school visits organized at the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies

High school and university students from Sarajevo visited the University of Zagreb Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (UNIZG-FER) in September, 2023, as part of “school to science and academic community” initiative. As part of the visit, about twenty students, along with their supervisors, had the opportunity to visit two robotics laboratories – the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies (LABUST), where they had the chance to see a pool for conducting projects in marine robotics and learn more about ongoing projects, and the Laboratory for Robotics and Intelligent Systems Control (LARICS), where they learned more about aerial robotics and robotic manipulators. The visitors also participated in a workshop on assembling and programming LEGO -Spike Essentials educational sets. All participants left FER with wonderful impressions.

High school and university students from Sarajevo together with our students on the LABUST pool area

Our team has won the Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Competition

The team, composed of many of our chapter members and other students of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, has won the first prize at the prestigious international robotics competition – MBZIRC (Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge). The challenge is held every two years in Abu Dhabi, and this edition started with a whitepaper phase in early 2022, followed by a simulation phase and culmination with a demonstration phase finale. This year’s competition aimed at creating a fully autonomous unmanned boat capable of retrieving objects from another vessel in collaboration with aerial drones.

“We are all very proud of this success! When we learned about this competition, and that it was the first experiment of its kind involving collaboration between unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles for complex navigation and manipulation tasks in a maritime environment, we knew we had the right team to respond successfully to such a challenge. The preparation took almost two years, but it showed us what we are capable of, and such competitions and recognitions validate that everything we develop has practical applications. Considering that part of the team from the Laboratory for Robotics and Intelligent Control Systems (LARICS) managed the unmanned aerial vehicle, we have now proven – the sky is the limit!” emphasized the vice dean for research and innovation at FER, Prof. Dr. Stjepan Bogdan.

Students from Matija Gubec primary school learning about marine technology and driving an ROV

“In the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies, we are engaged in applied research and the development of unmanned vehicles (underwater and surface) and innovations in marine technologies. What attracted us to this competition was the desire to demonstrate how much progress we have made in our research, and the purpose of this competition was to show how everything we have researched functions in a real environment. But we don’t stop there. We have big plans for Croatia related to research in the field of maritime robotics. Currently, we are competing for research funds to establish a Center of Excellence in the field of maritime robotics and technologies at FER – we have already received support from the Ministry of Science and Education, and we hope for support in the second phase, which, if successful, will firmly place Croatia on the world map of excellence in robotics,” highlighted Prof. Dr. Nikola Mišković, OES UniZG SBC advisor.

“We are proud of our team’s results, which are the outcome of many years of quality work on international projects. Our students and researchers face strong competition and work on challenging and current topics. These projects provide them with excellent working conditions and a quality life in Croatia. This result increases the visibility and impact of FER on the international level, confirming that we are doing great things for the world in Croatia,” said the dean of Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing in Zagreb, Prof. Dr. Vedran Bilas.

Many of our chapter members participated in this competition, starting from our advisors, Prof. Dr. Sc. Nikola Mišković, Doc. Dr. Sc. Đula Nađ, and Doc. Dr. Sc. Fausto Ferreira, who provided valuable mentorship during the competition. Our chapter members, Luka Mandić, Ivan Lončar, Natko Kraševac, Matko Batoš, Kristijan Krčmar, Martin Oreč, and Juraj Obradović, were actively involved in the development of algorithms for the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), while Marijana Peti was part of the team in charge of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). The USV played a crucial role in searching for the target vessel, autonomously navigating to it, and performing autonomous docking to the target vessel and retrieving cargo from the target ship.

The UniZg team in Abu Dhabi during the MB competition finals
Drone picking up the object after USV has autonomously docked to the target vessel