Just a notice that we are now on our regular meeting schedule:
Tuesdays and Thursdays
Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility
If you're interesting in joining, just stop by.
We have two introductory meetings for new members:
- Thursday, September 13th at 6pm in KEB 1110 (Kim Engineering building)
- Tuesday, September 18th at 6pm in AVW 2460 (AV Williams building)
NOTICE, THE LOCATION FOR THE TUESDAY MEETING HAS CHANGED
Below is a video of last seasons competition, which will give you a good idea of what the competition is and what we have to do.
Interested in robotics? We will be holding two introductory meetings where you can meet the Robotics @ Maryland team (and our robot Tortuga). Learn about what our robot does, what the team does to make it work, and what you could be doing as a new member.
The meetings are scheduled as follows:
- Thursday, September 13
- 6:00 PM in the Kim Engineering Building, room 1110 (the big lecture hall next to the Kim Cafe)
- Tuesday, September 18
- 6:00 PM, Location to be determined (check back soon!)
Our regular meetings are every Tuesday and Thursday, 6:00PM to 9:00PM in the Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility (NBRF). If you can't make the intro meeting, come by anytime to meet the team and learn how to get started.
We welcome all majors - we will teach you what you need to know, as long as you are willing to learn. There are many technical and non-technical positions available.
It's likely we can find something to match your interest; here are a few ideas:
- All engineering - Technical design and construction
- Computer science - Programming
- Math, physics - Controls
- Business - Club finances
- Art, design, film, writing, web development - Publicity (i.e. flyers, videos, posters, website, and robot visual appeal)
- IT and computer networking - Back-end development and distribution tools
This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you didn't see anything specific you like but still want to work with us and Tortuga, stop by anyway!
Robosub is now over, and since we're all finally home safely we have time to post an update.
Our qualifying run was enough to get us into the finals, which were on Sunday the 22nd. That morning we loaded Tortuga into the truck as usual.
We had done some repairs to the sonar system the night before, so we used our practice run to test it out. We had the third slot for the final run, so as the time neared we made our way to the dock for final preparations.
Tortuga was loaded onto the crane and placed in the water...
...And the run began. We made a run for one of the uprights on the first couple attempts, but some interference was confusing Tortuga's magnetometer.
Our software team decided to pull Tortuga back for one final attempt and go straight for the sonar task.
Unfortunately the clock ran out before she could reach the octagon, ultimately putting us in 6th place for the competition. Out of about 30 international teams, we think that's a pretty good place to be.
Thanks to all of our sponsors and fans for their support in helping us get through another year. RoboSub is a massive undertaking, and we couldn't dream of doing it without your support. Special thanks to our two graduating team members:
- Kit Sczudlo, who will be working for Amazon in Washington soon
- Gary Sullivan, who is currently working at Wabtec
Best wishes for your future careers. We'll miss you guys!
For now we're all going to take a break and get some rest, but you can be sure that when the 2012 fall term starts we'll be back at it preparing for next year's competition.
Lots of updates today. Yesterday was mostly a day of steady progress in testing Tortuga's software. The testing doesn't even end when we leave TRANSDEC; last night and the night before we tested until Tortuga's batteries ran out.
Today we had our first semi-final run in the morning. The team was feeling a bit apprehensive as we prepared to put Tortuga in the water.
We ended up pulling the sub back twice, but on the third run we accomplished everything we intended.
The symbols represent the tasks we completed; our line shows we passed through the gate, over two paths, through one set of uprights, we surfaced in the correct octagon, and picked up and dropped the wreath(you can see what all of the tasks for this year are at the RoboSub website). We are happy with the results, but of course the competition isn't over yet, so later in the day it was back in the water for more testing.
The robot's software is constantly being updated, so after a run Gary, Eliot, and Stephen (the software and controls team members) will discuss what changes need to be made.
In-between intense practice runs, sometimes we even manage to have fun. As the competition was coming to a close for the day, Kit decided to see how many hats he could collect. There were contributions from our competitors Cornell and ETS, as well as an AUVSI hat to top it off.
Tomorrow is our second semi-final run; we're going to see if we can complete even more tasks and really cement us a spot in the finals.
Today we were able to pre-qualify Tortuga by autonomously navigating through the first gate. Our software team then spent the rest of the time taking video footage of the course to process later, so we can teach Tortuga's vision algorithms what to look for.
See Tortuga head home:
After the competition closed for the day and the team had dinner together, Tortuga went for another swim in the hotel pool for more testing. We were very happy with the results, so we're all set for full-scale testing tomorrow, as well as the first day of static judging.
We know its been a while since the last real post, but we've been working hard to get Tortuga ready for competition.
All summer we worked to upgrade Tortuga IV so it could take on the new challenges of this year's Robosub competition. Most of our upgrades are incremental, so you could call this Tortuga version 4.1. Physically, the biggest change is the overhauled actuation system.
Last year the mechanical team replaced our hydraulics with a small pneumatic system. It worked so well that, for this year, they enlarged it to run all of our manipulators.
All of the AI has been re-written to work more efficiently and be easier to change. The software team has also been working on new vision algorithms.
Last Sunday we flew out to San Diego to prepare for the competition. This year's hotel for RoboSub is the Sheraton San Diego, which has provided us with large rooms in a prime location.
Of course all that extra space gets taken up by our tools and spare parts (not to mention Tortuga herself).
Shipping was not kind to the robot this year, so right out of the box we had to make some repairs.
Electronics in particular had a difficult problem, but thanks to quick thinking and lots of hard work the robot is working great.
Currently the software team is chugging away at our AI as mechanical and electrical prepare for another practice run later today. We're on track to pre-qualify, then testing, testing, and more testing.
As per usual we're sorry about the lack of updates to the blog, but we're still alive and gearing up for the 2012 robosub competition! If you want more details about the competition itself, check out Robosub's official website. If you want more information about our team, check through our website. We're currently in the process of bringing more of the features up to date, and we're looking forward to seeing everyone at this year's competition!
Good luck to all the teams, we'll see you in San Diego!
Hello everyone! Welcome back to another school year and another year of building robots. As promised, here's a post telling everyone that the meeting will once again be in the Kim building in room 1110 (this is the large lecture hall on the first floor).
Those of you who came to the last meeting and saw the presentation do not need to come again, but a piece of advice I realized I may have forgotten to give you was that you should plan on bringing a laptop with you to the club.
Hope to see you there!
Hello from San Diego! The whole team has made it out to San Diego in order to participate in the 14th annual AUVSI RoboSub competition! It has been a bit of work unpacking and getting settled, but we have finished all that and are making last-minute preparations for the competition. Having registered and signed up for practice times earlier today, we are prepared to arrive at the TRANSDEC facility early tomorrow morning and show off all of the changes that we have made to Tortuga IV, thanks to all of our generous sponsors!
Here is a picture of the resort that we will be staying at for the duration of the competition:
Here is a picture of Kit working on the electronics of Tortuga IV:
With all of the great improvements that we have made to our vehicle, we are confident that we will be taking 1st place this year! Wish us luck!
We have been rather light with our updates in the previous few months but that hasn't stopped our progress. We have got a lot done and a lot to talk about so let's get started!
First off there's the Doppler Velocity Logger (DVL) from Teledyne which we've spoken so much about. You may recall our previous post talking about installing it to our frame, and after some technical hiccups ranging from simple to disastrous we produced the image below using real-time velocity information:
This image was made with a team-member pushing the robot around the edge of the tank, and after about 10 minutes, approximately 50 meters of swimming, and his estimation of where we started, the combination of the workhorse of our controls system, the Memsense IMUs, and the DVL had only accumulated about 1m of error! We're still testing the limits of the error of our system, but if that were the limit of our error, 1m could easily be corrected with visual information. And that was only the first try!
Since producing the above image we have integrated the software changes, which had been written months in advanced, and the controls system now properly uses the velocity information to perform tasks. We are continuously refining the estimation and movement systems, but they have quickly reached the stage that we are ready to use the new controls mechanisms in our AI. Check back soon to see us demonstrating these new controls in a cool and/or interesting way!
Another huge leap forward in Tortuga IV's design was the new cameras. Sidus Solutions has been mentioned several times in previous posts on the subject, and now we can unveil what they've helped us bring to life:
These new camera housings are, if you forgive a bit of self-indulgence, amazing. Designed by our mechanical lead Chris Carlsen, they are depth-rated beyond 300 meters, eliminate the previous design's heat dissipation issues, and are essentially the smallest housing that could hold both the cameras and our control electronics. We'd like to reiterate our huge thanks to Sidus Solutions for helping us build these housings! The electronics inside also deserve some special mention.
Here you can see another pair of our sponsors who helped make the new design possible: Advanced Circuits, who provided the printed circuit boards free of charge, as well as TC Technologies, who provided their incredible Eqcologics firewire chips free of charge. These boards are what allow us to pass what is normally a matched-impedance signal through the relatively messy interface that is both of our Subconn bulkhead connectors. All of this effort is meant to yield pictures for the robot vision software, so how about some samples? Now, these pictures may not look very impressive, but to those roboticists out there reading this: I think you can appreciate the quality of these pictures.
Traditionally, we had a lot of trouble differentiating between the yellow and green buoy, but the difference in these pictures is much sharper than with the previous cameras, and you can see that the noise in any given pixel is very low.
The new cameras also have a much higher depth of field than the previous cameras, which gives clearer images at a distance. You can also see that while the orange pipes were easily distinguishable before, they now practically pop out of the screen.
As in the first picture, normally we have trouble distinguishing between the different colors, but they are now vibrantly different, even in our vision software.
And as in the second picture, this demonstrates from nearly 40ft away that last year's targets are still easily visible, and distinguishable.
For comparison, here is a picture from our old cameras:
It may appear that the color definition on this camera looks comparable, but the grainy nature of this picture is actually a side-effect of the small pixel size (the new cameras have 7.4μm × 7.4μm for the cell size relative to the original 5.6μm × 5.6μm). That shifting noise made by the small pixel size plus the color bleeding and giving "soft" edges lowered the consistency of the previous system. You can also see the vignetting around the three corners of our camera view that our old housings created.
So we hope you appreciate this big update and we're planning on having a few more updates before the competition where we'll show you more of what our robot is capable of!
To end this progress update, here are two images of Tortuga IV for comparison: the final version rendered in our Pro/Engineer computer-aided design software, and the nearly-completed robot "in real life". We're almost there!
Our ATV-sized robot Donatello was entered into the MGC 2011 at Penn State Abington. The majority of the course consisted of path following, orange cone avoidance, and object collision detection.
Despite the ominous weather that threatened to cancel the competition, our robot was quickly redesigned to handle rainy weather. We ended up completing a good portion of the track on our test runs using vision processing.
We were given two trials. Our first trial was successful in stopping in front of objects and had travelled down the first section of the path using a combination of LADAR and vision. Our second trial also only drove a portion of the track, with some new adjustments to the LADAR.
Of course, our entry was not without its problems. We had a difficult time recalibrating our LADAR to the new track. The speed of the robot was also not as thoroughly adjusted as we had hoped it would be. We did not have enough time to add in personality to the robot.
We ended up receiving 3rd place out of 7 competitors. Regardless, we hope to improve upon our designs for next year!
So I'd like to start off this entry with some very exciting news: we are now being sponsored by Advanced Circuits!
R@M has been making use of the student deals offered through the 33each and 66each service since the club began, and we have always enjoyed the quality of manufacturing in the final product: Tortuga! Because all of our non-integrated electronics are custom designed and built, our robot is built on Advanced Circuits' technology. Now what did Advance Circuits sponsor us with? I'm glad you asked!
Since we are now developing new camera modules with Sidus Solutions, we need new electronics to power this device. We have designed a compact (1.45"x2.75") electronics section which is capable of transmitting 400Mbps firewire through the bulkheads using TC Technologies eqcologics chip. Currently, the boards are still being built (as shown above), and only have one of the three power sections populated. But we can now confirm that we properly designed the switching power supply section! We'll be debugging this design over the coming week and we're hoping to confirm any serious design mistakes quickly so that we can move forward with mechanical designs.
And finally some big progress jumps tempered with setbacks: the DVL housing has been completed! Longer rails had to be added to accommodate the addition, which was completed and the robot has been rebalanced.
Unfortunately, after getting everything installed it turned out there was an issue with the cable connecting the main electronics to the transducer element. The offending cable has been sent back to Teledyne for repairs, and we're hoping to have the DVL taking measurements in the water soon!
We would like to thank SAIC for continuing their sponsorship with another big donation! This funding will go an incredible distance towards this year's big plans. We'll be making more posts about each sponsor's contributions as we install them, look forward to some exciting posts! This year has already been jam-packed with lots of moving forward, and we thought we would take some time to talk about what's been happening:
The big news right now is that our new DVL housing is almost manufactured. We had developed a test housing designed to handle the DVL initially last year before we had purchased the final unit from Teledyne.
The temporary DVL housing
Now that we own a DVL, it's time to get a final, permanent housing constructed and get more accurate testing data. We've almost finished the machining and we're gearing up for a weekend filled with work, installing the housing on Tortuga's frame. Designing the housing was quite a challenge as the size of the DVL in addition to the required separation between the transducer and the electronics block made for a final size longer than Tortuga's main housing!
We're also close to completing the electrical components required to add the new cameras this semester.
The new camera board in Eagle CAD.
We're working with Sidus Solutions to build the final housing which tie together the electrical components to pass the firewire connection from the camera, through the bulkhead and back into the main housing. This presented it's own set of unique challenges which we'll discuss as we finish development on each component.
Thanks for reading and keeping up with us! Look forward to the next news post.
The Robotics @ Maryland Underwater Team has started off the year hard at work preparing Tortuga 4 for next year's RoboSub competition.
In celebration of our third place victory at this year's competition, we will be holding a demo of Tortuga 3 in the Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility on October 29 at 2:00 PM.
While we're holding this event to thank our generous sponsors, the event is open to the faculty and staff. We hope to see everyone interested in Tortuga at the demo!
We at Robotics @ Maryland are looking for students to join our team.
What: Information session
When: Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: A.V. Williams room 2460
As the university's robotics club, we create unmanned vehicles both for competitions and for indoor and outdoor navigation. Motion planning, communication, vision and sensing are a few of the software topics we work on, along with electronics and mechanical structures.
We're having an open house [there will be food] on Wednesday for anyone who wants to learn about the club and our ground vehicles. It's in A.V. Williams room 2460 starting at 5:30 p.m. You're also invited to attend our regular meetings: twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:00 p.m. in A.V. Williams room 1205.
No robotics experience is required, but software or electronics development skills will be very helpful.
R@M is off to a busy start of the semester, with several events occurring in the next six weeks:
- Maryland Robotics Day (Sept. 10), when students and researchers show off their robotics work. You'll find R@M in A.V. Williams building room 2158 and in the courtyard at the Computer Science Instructional Center.
- First Look Fair (Sept. 15-16), the annual student organization fair, will be held on McKeldin Mall on Sept. 15 and 16 at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. R@M will have all of its robots on display.
- R@M information sessions will introduce new and prospective members to the club shortly after the First Look Fair. Watch this space and the announcement/AGV mailing lists for details.
- UMD's third Autonomous Robot Speedway Competition is set for Oct. 16. R@M will be entering an improved version of the Raphael autonomous vehicle in the competition, and we hope to enter a new, faster vehicle, too.
We have chosen initial meeting schedules for both teams. R@M will be following these schedules through the First Look Fair, after which we might make adjustments.
- Ground vehicle team: Monday at 5, Wednesday at 5
- Underwater vehicle team: Tuesday at 6:30, Thursday at 6:30
So after much fuss and hard work, the competition is over. We had a rather leisurely time packing up, and took this picture of everyone who was left of the competition crew (except for Kyle who had to go home for work). Our good friend Jean-François from ETS got in to the bottom-right of the picture:
We all made the trip back to the hotel where we took showers and dressed nicely, and had a great time at the banquet where we were excited to hear the order. After the speeches given by the sponsors of the event ( AUVSI, ONR, and SPAWAR) and Dr. Dave Novick we received a breakdown of how all the teams did:
In first place is Cornell University, which is to be expected this year. In second place is the U.S. Naval Academy. We were on pins and needles as we knew going into the celebration that we would be very close to ETS in terms of score, and so when they announced us in the third place position, we were ecstatic!
They pulled us on stage and we had our picture taken with the giant novelty check for $2,250
As we supposed, ETS got fourth place right after us. Following them was Amador Valley High School, University of Texas at Dallas, and finally Kyushu Institute of Technology. You can see a more thorough breakdown of the prize money and positions at robosub.org.
We went off and partied into the night, but had to stop early to pack up the robot to be shipped off the next morning.
As always a huge thank you for all of our sponsors! Without you we would not have been able to do this.
Congratulations to Cornell for their first place win, and to all the teams at this year's competition! Good luck next year, we look forward to seeing you there.
After yesterday's successful runs, we had a serious discussion about what we believed the robot was capable of achieving in our final run, and came up with several contingency plans.
The most conservative of any of the plans was to simply use the sonar subsystem. As we have proven time and time again it is incredibly reliable and accurate (once properly configured), and could be executed from nearly any point in the pool. This was also essentially what we did in our qualifying run, and was thus something we had already done at TRANSDEC this year.
Then we began to discuss the other objectives we were capable of doing. The buoy vision detector worked well on all of the colors except for green, and also, being close to the start gate was something we could attempt several times and restart without sacrificing too much time. The bin detector would work well assuming that the caustics in the bin were not too bad, and the marker droppers have always worked reliably. And the same assumption went for the windows, if the caustics were not too strong, the torpedo launchers work well, so we could also do this.
That morning we came out and it was overcast but it didn't stop everyone from looking cheerful as we manned our booth, early in the morning:
The downside to the overcast was that the vision conditions we had been tuning to all week were no longer valid, and since there is only a single practice dive on the final day, we would have to make all of our changes based on that single run. This was risky, and so we put together the following plans:
1) Attempt the buoy using the colors which we can most easily detect, then the buoys in the order given, followed by the sonar task, then go back and attempt the bins, and finally the window task. This plan would yield the most possible points, but depends on poorly tuned vision considering the lighting conditions.
2) Attempt the sonar task, then attempt the bins, and finally attempt the window task. This plan is the safest, as it yields a high number of points for the sonar task, and then uses the remaining time to try and get as many additional points as possible
We double-checked that the control algorithms would still be able to handle the robot in the unfamiliar condition of having the treasure-grabber deployed with a practice run, which beautifully displayed exactly why we use quaternions and why I believe that our robot has the best control algorithms in the competition. See if you can tell why in the 10 minute video of Tortuga's dive below:
Did you see? From about 5:12 to 5:30 Tortuga maintained depth and drove completely straight forward while both heavily rolled and pitched due to the additional weight of holding the counselor in only one side of the grabber. This achievement is possible because of the combination of our controls software, our incredible controls team, and the great IMUs provided by Memsense.
The momentary surfacing was due to the depth controller being momentarily befuddled when the second treasure grabber shook itself open. It quickly compensates and Tortuga continues forward looking for the bins. The short tumble into the bins was due to the depths not having been retuned to account for the additional height provided by the deployed treasure grabber.
Altogether this was a very encouraging practice dive, and gave us much momentum going into the final run.
Due to the nature of the design, the hydraulic system must be re-primed after every dive. Here you can see Chris and Gary working hard to get the hydraulic system back into a "ready to fire" state for the last run:
With the hydraulics primed and the plans made, we got ready for the final dive. We pulled our robot up behind the main crane and started our last set of checks. The thrusters, cameras, and the hydrophones were all triple-checked, and then it was time for a final pass over of all of the different dive plans and configuration values. Here you can see Jon Wonders and Jon Sternberg doing a final pass before our dive:
And as the time drew closer, we gave a briefing on the robot to our divers for the final run:
And with that, Tortuga was weighed and lowered into the water:
The code was started, the tether was detached, and the diver activated the robot. Tortuga dropped to depth and passed straight through the starting gate, but continued too far forward! It passed the buoys. We asked the diver to pull back the robot and we tried again with the first plan, and a shorter run before we started the buoy-seeking code. The robot was restarted, and we tried again. Once again, Tortuga overshot the buoys. We asked the divers to pull the robot back in and moved on to the "safe" contingency plan.
This time, Tortuga moved through the gate as expected, and turned towards the sonar after passing through. It moved swiftly across the course, and activated the sonar-seeking code. It quickly located the active pinger, and began moving closer. After a few gut wrenching minutes it moved above the cube, and dove to depth to attempt to capture. Unfortunately something went wrong! It dove about an inch too shallow, and did not fully engage the treasure grabber over the PVC cube. It then successfully surfaced in the octagon, deployed the treasure grabber (in such a manner that it would have fully released the cube) and then went in search of the bins.
In the end, the only points we received were in driving through the gate, following two pipe segments, and surfacing in the correct octagon. Though this did not fully display the mechanical capabilities of the robot, we were pleased to have a run which demonstrated that the robot was fully capable of completing one of the most challenging tasks at the competition and we hope to come back next year with new cameras and a DVL to show that we are capable of finishing the whole course!
Today marked our last attempt to get into the finals with our second qualifying run. We showed up extra early this morning (around 6:50am) but found that there were no available practice slots before our qualifying run. The other teams had already taken all all slots before 11am! Thus we had to go into our second qualifying run with the assurance that the changes that we had made to the code, along with the results from our simulator would work.
Thankfully, these assumptions (which are so frequently unreliable) held true! We successfully completed the sonar task, and got 1,500 points for surfacing with, and releasing the cube, as well as 250 points for passing through the gate. Unfortunately, we managed to also pick up the PVC structure which holds the cube and the sonar pinger, which caused Tortuga to surface outside of the correct octagon. Either way, this gave us enough points to qualify in 4th place.
With the remaining time we elected to rerun the course (non-scoring) after adjusting the depth to which Tortuga dives for the cube, and completed the full 4,000 points worth of objectives associated with the sonar task: obtaining the cube (1,000 points), surfacing in an octagon (500 points), surfacing in the correct octagon (2,000 points), and releasing the cube (500 points). This would have qualified us in second place, but we decided to play it safe and take the points from the first run.
Here are some highlights from today:
Here is our segment from the Day 2 (that is, day 2 of qualifying) recap provided by 5:00 films:
Everyone on deck as we prepare for the tense second qualifying run:
Paul describes to the diver how we would like Tortuga angled through the starting gate as we prepare for an autonomous run:
Kurt (the crane operator, divemaster, and all around good guy) weighs the robot while Chris and Kit hold it up: