Students & Young Professionals

The Student AUV Challenge – Europe (SAUC-E) 2016

1SAUCE-E Technical Director, NATO-STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE),
2Member of the Technical Committee, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SPAWAR),

The Student Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) Challenge – Europe (SAUC-E) is celebrating 10 years of student innovation and inspiration. Since its first edition in 2006, year after year SAUC-E has increased its importance in the marine robotics community. Now in its 11th edition, it has become a stable, well-known competition that attracts the best student teams in Europe and promotes the goal of educating the next generation of marine engineers. Its successes may be measured by several outcomes, including that SAUC-E was at the foundation of the euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge, the world’s first multi-domain field robotics competition combining aerial, land and marine robotics. After last year’s success of euRathlon 2015, in which SAUC-E 2015 was integrated, it was not an easy task to maintain the standard at such a high level, but this year’s edition has kept growing with several new developments, as we will see.

The Competition
The competition was organised (for the 7th time in a row) by the NATO-STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) and was held 3–8 July 2016, back in La Spezia CMRE water basin, after the euRathlon-linked edition was held in Piombino (Italy) last year.

Each year, SAUC-E challenges multidisciplinary University teams (consisting at least of 75% student members) to design and build AUVs capable of performing realistic missions. The students’ AUVs must perform a series of tasks autonomously, facing real-life challenges such as limited visibility in the sea, with no control, guidance or communication from a person or from any off-board computer including GPS systems. Tasks set in previous years have included underwater structure inspection, detection of a mid-water target, passing though validation gates and following a wall. This year, we added a new mission task; the search for a missing person underwater, represented by a realistic mannequin.

At SAUC-E, teams are fostered to test multi-vehicle collaboration to improve precise sonar based navigation, data processing and mission reporting in real time. Collaboration may be between two AUVs from the same team, one AUV and one Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) belonging to the same team or even two AUVs from two different teams.

AUV Team Tom Kyle prepares to start their trial.

As in the previous SAUC-E editions, the challenges were held at the CMRE waterfront sea basin, which is a sheltered harbor that offers participants the opportunity to handle real-life sea conditions, including limited visibility and salty water, but within a safe, controlled environment. The limited visibility added severe difficulties to object recognition by AUVs, even if the target was bright orange in colour.

Nonetheless, several teams were able to tackle the tasks, mostly achieving their goals. Out of the 8 teams registered, all tested their vehicles in the water and 5 classified into the Finals on the last competition day by fulfilling the “passing the gate” task during the first four competition days. This task, showing basic vehicle navigation capabilities, requested the AUV to navigate from a starting point through a gate composed of two buoys.
Two teams managed to show collaboration between an AUV and ASV. One of the interesting things we have noticed is the evolution of the teams over the different SAUC-E editions. We have seen significant and steady progress from year to year in teams that are recently new to this kind of competition, such as AUV Team Tom Kyle or the AUGA team.

The Participant Teams

Of the 8 teams, 7 had previously participated in SAUC-E, showing how SAUC-E is today a fixed appointment for several European research groups. Moreover, two of the teams had been away from SAUC-E for 3 years and came back this year which highlights that SAUC-E can be a strong stimulus for research groups to continue working on underwater vehicle technology. The success of euRathlon 2015 has also played a role in this regard. For example, 5 teams that participated last year also took part in the competition this year.

As we did last year, CMRE was able to loan, without charge, one AUV robotic kit to be given to a team.  As in euRathlon 2015, the robotic kit was the basic version of a SPARUS II AUV without payload sensors.  This initiative aims to expand the number of teams by providing a selected team a sort of “jump start”, since building an underwater robot is not a trivial task, and to promote rapid development and innovation. This year the chosen team was AUGA, a recipient of the loan also in 2015. Although this year the team had little time to practice with the robot (the AUV was sent in late April 2016), the performance was satisfactory and the team reached 4th place. The SPARUS II is another success story of SAUC-E. The platform was designed and realised based on the experience matured in previous SAUC-E editions and is now commercialised by a University of Girona spin-off. This is the kind of technology transfer that we would like to encourage as an output of robotics competitions.

The participant teams were:

  1. AUGA (Spain); from the University of Vigo and ACSM (Advanced Crew and Ship Management), a company that participated in the sea trials with a loaned SPARUS II AUV. Past participant of SAUC-E (2015)
  2. AUV Team Tom Kyle (Germany); from the University of Applied Sciences of Kiel. (3rd place in SAUC-E 2015).
  3. ENSTA Bretagne Team 1 (France); one of the 2 teams from the Institute of ENSTA. Regular participant and awarded team of SAUC-E (2nd place in 2015).
  4. ENSTA Bretagne Team 2 (France); the 2nd of the two teams from the Institute of ENSTA. Regular participant of SAUC-E.
  5. ROBOTUIC Team (Spain); from the International University of Canarias. This was their first participation in SAUC-E, showing that the competition keeps attracting new teams.
  6. UNIFI Team (Italy); from the University of Florence. Past participant of SAUC-E (2012, 2013, 2015).
  7. UnivPM Team (Italy); from University-Polytechnic of Marche. This team participated in SAUC-E 2013 and came back after 3 years, which shows that the SAUC-E brand is well known and reputed.
  8. UWE Team (UK); from the University of West of England, Bristol. This is another team that, after 3 years, came back to participate in the competition.

The winning team (ENSTA Bretagne Team 1) with CMRE’s Director and Dr. Nikola Miskovic.

The Winners
The winners of the 11th edition SAUC-E competition were:

  • 1st Place – ENSTA Bretagne Team 1 (France).
  • 2nd Place – AUV Team TomKyle, from the University of Applied Sciences of Kiel (Germany).
  • 3rd Place – UNIFI Team with the robot Marta from the University of Florence (Italy).
    Other prizes awarded were:
  • “Collaborator Award” – AUGA Team, from the University of Vigo with ACSM (Spain)
  • “Rookie of the Year Award” – ROBOTUIC Team, from International University of Canarias (Spain)
  • “Tenacity Award” – ENSTA Bretagne Team 2 (France)
  • “Innovation Award” – UnivPM Team, from University-Polytechnic of Marche (Italy)
  • “Persistence Award” – UWE Team, from the University of the West of England (UK)
  • “Data Visualization Award” – UNIFI Team, from the University of Florence (Italy).

The Judges
We are pleased to thank the Office of Naval Research Global (ONRG), SPAWAR and IEEE OES, who provided exceptionally qualified judges, increasing the quality of the competition. Other institutions represented in the judging team were the University of Zagreb, the National Research Council of Italy and Imperial College London.

The Judging Team with CMRE’s Director RADM Ort and CMRE Staff.

The SAUC-E participants and Robocademy students together with staff and judges.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

IEEE OES played a fundamental role as one of the Main Sponsors, without whose support it would not have been possible to hold the competition. The other Main Sponsor was ONRG, a long-time supporter whose sponsorship has been essential for the successful organisation of the event over many years. One of the SAUC-E goals is to educate future ocean engineers. Therefore, the sponsorship of ‘Breaking the Surface’ 2016, the 8th Interdisciplinary Field Workshop of Marine Robotics and Applications, is well aligned with our mission. The organisers of ‘Breaking the Surface’ provided 3 complimentary registrations to the winning team, 2 to the second team and 1 to the third team, allowing 6 students to participate in this interesting and educational workshop.
We also have engagement from the marine robotics commercial sector, with Subsea Mechatronics offering a paid internship of up to 6 months to one student from the winning teams and as they did last year, VideoRay LLC also joined the sponsors club, donating 4 x M5 thrusters to the best two teams. Optoforce was another supporter, offering 50% discount on some of their products for the participating teams.

A new development for SAUC-E 2016 was the presence of exhibitors. For the first time, CMRE opened its doors to companies and institutions that wished to participate with an exhibition space. This attracted the CADDY FP7 project, the EXCELLABUST H2020 project, the Interuniversity Center of Integrated Systems for the Marine Environment (ISME) and SBG Systems to set up stands and connect with the SAUC-E community.

SAUC-E 2016: More than a Competition –An European Marine Robotics Forum

This year’s SAUC-E had several extras that made it more than a competition, transitioning the event into a true marine robotics forum. Besides the presence of exhibitors, a parallel presentation program was prepared that included four invited talks. Three of the talks came from the exhibitors and were given by Dr. Nikola Miskovic, Dr. Lorenzo Pollini and Mr. Jeremy Colombel. Another talk was given by Dr. Marko Thaler, CEO of Airnamics.

In addition to the invited talks, a new twist for this edition was the connection with the Robocademy FP7 EU project (www.robocademy.eu). In the framework of Robocademy a parallel workshop was organised for the final day of SAUC-E with 13 international PhD students coming from 10 institutions from all over Europe (Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom). Robocademy activities at CMRE continued until 13 July 2016 as a hands-on experience on underwater robotics for young international talent. The Project aims at establishing an European training and research network to develop key skills and enabling technologies in the field for the exploration of the oceans, and therefore shares key values with SAUC-E. Veronika Yordanova from ATLAS Elektronik won the Best Oral Presentation Award.

SAUC-E 2016 may thus be considered a great success, consolidating its status as the leading marine robotics competition in Europe, with IEEE OES as a core sponsor. SAUC-E 2016 was not only a great competition, but also a robotics event that produced significant exposure in the scientific community through the parallel program of invited talks, exhibitors and a workshop dedicated to 13 PhD students.

We are proud of how far we’ve come in the 10 years’ of SAUC-E and our aim is to continue to develop SAUC-E as a unique event that challenges student teams with realistic conditions, with an increasing emphasis on multi-vehicle cooperation. These achievements were made possible thanks to the fundamental support of IEEE OES, ONRG and all our other sponsors. We thank all the teams, judges, exhibitors, visitors and everyone involved, who made SAUC-E 2016 such as a successful event.
Next year, SAUC-E will be again part of a larger and more complex competition. Following the experience of euRathlon 2015, a multi-domain competition for land, sea and air robots inspired by the Fukushima disaster will take place again in Italy, 15–23 September 2017. This new competition, the European Robotics League (ERL) Emergency, will be part of a larger framework, the European Robotics League (ERL). ERL is a similar event for robotics as the UEFA soccer Champions League is to football and gathers several competitions, both outdoor and indoor. The European Robotics League is funded through the H2020 RockEU2 European project coordinated by euRobotics AISBL. There is no need to say that we invite you all to participate in ERL Emergency in September 2017! Stay tuned on eu-robotics.net/robotics_league/ for news about ERL Emergency.
A YouTube video (in Italian) regarding SAUC-E 16 is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3438Vpq7W4