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This Emergency Smartboat Won't Need Sailors to Help It Navigate

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While GPS has enabled a degree of autonomous function in many modern maritime vessels, ships are very much unable to steer themselves upon the high seas—or even navigate out of the harbor. But, like a naval Knight Rider, this new "smart" search and rescue boat could soon be patrolling your local shores, all by itself.

Its name is Bruce. Bruce was developed by a team of six students from Australia's Queensland University of Technology for Google's upcoming Maritime RobotX Challenge, which is being held in Singapore late next month.

"Like a plane on autopilot, current autonomous boats can get from from point A to point B but they aren't capable of working in changing environments where the unforeseen can happen," QUT roboticist and team advisor Dr Matt Dunbabin said in a press release. "This competition is a test bed for creating the technology needed to build robotic boats that perform the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs human mariners can't or don't want to do. The technologies we're developing for the competition we believe will one day save lives on the water."


"This generation of boats will be the first to perform search-and rescue-activities in cyclonic weather, for instance, when it's too dangerous for emergency services personnel to be on the water," he continued.

The contest provides each of the 15 international teams with a standard, 5-meter-long maritime frame but requires each group to develop its own sensors, software, and control hardware. While the QUT team is remaining quiet on how, exactly, its gear works ahead of the competition, Bruce will be required to complete five specific tasks in order to win and receive additional development funding. These challenges include navigating between sets of floating markers, autonomously docking at a port, picking its way through water hazards, interpreting marine signals, and subsurface target acquisition.


Unfortunately, like the DARPA Robotics Challenge from earlier this year, not matter how well these prototype platforms may perform, we're still many years away from seeing them in the wild but that prototypes can even exist means we're on our way to autonomous rescue boats. [QUT via Damn Geeky]