The NaviGator project started about three and a half years ago, and the current generation of NaviGator has been a work in progress since 2017. Usually, development work is done at the Machine Intelligence Lab (MIL), followed by regular testing days at Lake Wauburg. Testing days evaluate progress and are essential for the team, especially since they are headed for competition during December 2018 in Hawaii.
RobotX is an autonomous maritime boat challenge that takes place in open, but protected, ocean at competition sites around the world. The competition was created in 2014 and takes place every two years. Teams from around the world compete against each other with boats they designed and programmed to be fully autonomous. Team NaviGator participated in 2016 and won. They will defend their champion title this year.
More students slowly start to appear and begin to help Matt clear the way for NaviGator. Hauling the large robotic boat out of the garage is no easy task. It takes several students to push an autonomous car and move equipment to maneuver the boat out on its dolly. Meanwhile, there are other students filling up the CIMAR trailer with field testing objects. Once NaviGator is secured to a truck and the trailer is locked up, the team makes its way to Lake Wauburg.
The CIMAR trailer and the truck with NaviGator park by a private ramp at the end of Lake Wauburg. It takes a while for the students to unload their equipment and get the trailer set up. They unpack an assortment of buoys, anchors, walkie talkies, and signs. The software team sets up their computers on the folding desk in the trailer.
Preparation for the upcoming competition started in 2017. It is a process that requires the work of several teams. The software team has to write new software to accomplish different tasks and make improvements on current tasks. The mechanical team is rebuilding/redesigning parts of the robot and adding new elements for the upcoming competition. The electrical team is also improving the robot by fixing hardware issues.
Working on such a high profile project has its challenges. Matt has five and a half years of experience in MIL and noted some challenges of working on a team. Communication gets harder as the team grows and keeping everyone on the same page is a challenge. One must consider how information is passed around; is an email or in-person meeting more efficient? As for the boat, the most complex part is the software system. This is the biggest challenge during competition.
Looking ahead, Team NaviGator hopes to remain the champion of RobotX. The week long competition can be thought of as a very long test day but with scored results. The first day is spent unpacking the boat and putting it together. Then there are four days of testing. Semi-final rounds follow to qualify for finals.