Autumn 2009 / Leading Edge

Engineering students build a robotic “submarine”

Photo: Daniel Ehrenworth

During the summer, some undergrads work retail. Others plant trees. Theodore Soong, Lawrence Lee and two dozen other engineering students spent much of their summer toiling away in a basement lab, building a robotic “submarine.”

» Videos from 2009 AUVSI competition
» “AquaTux” in depth Journal paper and design specifications for the U of T entry
» U of T Mechatronics Design Association (UTMDA) homepage

The students’ creation looks like a small, clear suitcase – with five propellers, two cameras to act as “eyes” and a digital compass. In July, the students travelled to California to enter their “aquabot” in an international competition that requires each machine to dive, perform tasks underwater and then surface – guided only by a program on its on-board computer.

The team’s biggest challenge? Keeping the internal components dry. “If there’s a way in, water will always find it,” says Lee, a mechanical-engineering student.

U of T won best new entry in the contest three years ago, and Soong had high hopes for this year’s competition. But a computer glitch foiled the team’s chance for victory. They finished a still-respectable 19th.

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