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Photos: Robot submarines make waves

Collegiate teams descend on San Diego to see whose autonomous underwater vehicle hits the high-water mark.
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1 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

SubjuGator in the water

You may not be a kid any more, but there's no rule that says you can't still play with bathtub toys. Bigger, better, robotic toys.

Over the weekend in San Diego, that's the spirit that brought together an array of teams looking to make waves at the 9th International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition. The vehicles had to demonstrate their autonomy by completing three tasks--rendezvous with a docking station, inspect and mark a pipeline, and home in on an acoustic beacon--within a 15-minute performance period. Entrants could not be more than 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high, and had to weigh less than 140 pounds.

The winner of this year's contest was the University of Florida's SubjuGator. No one would mistake the SubjuGator for a desktop PC, but it does run a version of Windows XP.

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2 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

SubjuGator, awaiting splashdown

The 2006 version of the SubjuGator is the fifth generation of the autonomous submarine, with about 70 percent new parts in rebuilding the 2005 design, including most of the electronics. And last year's model was no slouch, either--it, too, finished in first place.

This year's SubjuGator uses the embedded version of the Windows XP operating system on a single-board Pentium M computer, which run the vision system and advanced signal processing. Other components include sensors, motor controllers and microcontrollers. It was designed and built by students in the University of Florida's Machine Intelligence Lab.

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Scout - best new design

The award for the best new design also went to a school from the Sunshine State: Scout, from the University of Central Florida. "The earliest and most critical challenge in Scout's design was to develop completely watertight enclosures to house the electronics," according to a posting on the team's Web site. "We chose clear cylindrical ABS tubes since they're inexpensive, easy to procure off the shelf, and provide high visibility of interior components."

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Scout enclosure

Scout has two 9-inch-long watertight enclosures. The one on the port side contains batteries and power electronics, and the one on the starboard side holds the processing platforms, Ethernet switch and sensors.

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AUVSI test facility

This aerial photo shows the test facility, located at the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.

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Arena schematic

The arena has two halves, one for practice and the other for the competition.

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7 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Sonia high and dry

Most of the entrants were from the U.S., but this one--called Sonia, for systeme d'operation nautique intelligent et autonome)--came from the Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal.

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8 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Sonia in the water

Sonia in the water during a test run earlier this year.

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Bob

This contestant is Bob, from Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga.

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10 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Mechatronics design

This entrant, designated the best new entry, is from the Mechatronics Design Association at the University of Toronto.

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