Pictured above is IITM’s first Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, the product of over a year of work, which won the National Student Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition. A first venture of its kind in CFI, it was worked on by Team Amogh (derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘unerring’), which was formed in summer 2012 for the purpose of research and development on underwater robotics.
Team Amogh’s journey has been no bed of roses. They initially aimed to participate in the International AUVSI tournament, July 2013. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, and they dropped the idea as they felt they were not ready, and that it would be too difficult to meet the deadlines. Undeterred, they then shifted focus to the 2014 edition of the national competition, with plans to subsequently work towards the international competition. Finally, in February 2014, the team produced results when, under the guidance of Prof. V. G. Idichandy of Ocean Engineering Department, they won the National Student Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition 2014 (SAVe – 2014).
SAVe is a national competition for engineering students, which involves designing and building a highly mobile autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). It is aimed at generating student interest in ocean technology and finding solutions to the challenges of making vehicles work efficiently in an ocean environment.
The problem statement for this, the third edition edition of SAVe, involved building an intelligent robot capable of performing a set of predefined tasks under the water autonomously. The vehicle was required to follow a demarcated underwater path, touch an underwater buoy, go through an L-gate and fire torpedoes to complete its mission. Further, it had to be self-powered and self-guided, using colour identification and image processing techniques.
Held on 3rd Feb at the Aquatics Complex in Velachery, the competition saw five teams turn up. By completing four tasks in succession, Team Amogh emerged winners at SAVe 2014; no other team was able to complete even a single task.
The road to the competition was not without its fair share of scares. The day before, the power cable to one of the thrusters was found to be loose. Luckily, the team managed to get it fixed in time. The AUV was powered by highly explosive LiPo batteries held in a small compartment. Two days before the competition, there was a leakage in this compartment, and almost a cupful of water got in. Fortunately, it was noticed and fixed before the damage became irreparable.
Apart from winning SAVe 2014, Amogh has also been recognised at various other competitions. In the Student Design Competition conducted by the NDRF, they won the gold medal for Control Design and the silver medal for Mechanical Design; they were also quarter-finalists in Building the Enterprise 2013, a competition conducted by Infosys.
The design and construction of the AUV proved to be quite challenging, involving numerous tasks like waterproofing, achieving static and hydrodynamic stability, facilitating control and navigation using a mixed set of technologies like image processing, wireless communication and acoustics. The fact that it was underwater added to the challenges, even in domains that the students were familiar with. For example, image processing techniques had to be reworked to correct for the difference in how colours are recorded by the camera underwater. Simulations were performed on SolidWorks models of the vehicle to test for mechanical stability.
The team has not slacked off in its preparations for the international competition. As team leader Vineeth Uphadhyay puts it, “Our AUV is excellent by national standards, but no match for those that will be present at the international competition.” Now that they have won the nationals, the NIOT (National Insitute of Ocean Technology) will support Team Amogh for the international competition with their technical expertise and sponsorship. Yet, the team feels that a lot of help is needed in terms of sponsorship and technical expertise, and is looking for capable students to join their ranks.