In 2012 the Maritime RobotX Challenge was launched by the US Office of Naval Research. A joint Flinders University and Australian Maritime Collage was successful in applying to be part of the inaugral event and herein was born Topcat.
Developing Topcat has been a very iterative process. The initial vessel design focussed on solving the 2014 RobotX challenge tasks including navigation, obstacle avoidance and docking. This was a great base but new and ongoing research tasks and challenges have necessitated continual upgrades for Topcat.
In order to successfully visualise and raidly implement system upgrades we developed a complete full CAD model. This was a long process but now significantly enhances any design work.
Topcat's software started out with the simple tasks of controlling the vessel and avoiding basic obstacles. The systems have since been augmented to include new control algorithms, enhanced safety features, new sensor data, path planning algorithms, simple user interfacing and object recognition systems. This upgrade process has been made simpler by the use of ROS as a main architecture and the system modularity it allows.