Sand Island - O'ahu, Hawaii

09-20 December 2016

The 2016 Maritime RobotX Challenge will be hosted at Sand Island on O'ahu, Hawaii. Team Australis2 and Topcat are proud to once again represent Flinders University and South Australia.


Similar to the 2014 Maritime RobotX challenge, this year the competition focusses on high level collaborative autonomy and increased task complexity. Teams must design their vessels to work with a changing course structure in a semi sheltered environment near public boating highways.

This year there are twelve teams competing from five different countries on the Pacific Rim. The competition is sure to be challenging once again but we are excited and better prepared this year. Maybe we might even get some time to relax!

Key Tasks

With the focus on high level autonomy one of the major challenges this year is mission planning. During qualifying teams will be able to attempt tasks individually and gain points for qualifying. However, on the finals course there will be interconnections betweeen tasks and points will be awarded accordingly. This is a significantly more complex challenge because the vessel must autonomously make decisions about what tasks to execute in what order to maximise task points and minimise run time.

Individual tasks

A summary of some individual tasks is shown below, if you would like to read about them in detail then please follow this link to the RobotX webpage.

Identifying Tiki Totems

This year the obscatcle navigation task includes some extras. Several Hawaiian 'Tiki Totems' (represented by coloured beacons) will be strewn throughout the obstacles. The vessel must identify them and circle them in a given direction.

Analysing Loko Kuapa Damage

This year an underwater survey will be included. This task requires teams to detect a break in a traditional Hawaiian Loko Kuapa (shallow rock pool) wall. This task not only relates to traditional Hawaiian culture but is also relevant to tasks such as underwater pipe surveying.

Detect and Deliver

Detect and deliver is another new challenge which requires teams to detect a target then shoot racquet balls into it. While this challenge is a bit more fun, it also have real world applications such as autonomous firefighting where a vessel would have to detect, target and spray the fire.

Our Progress

If you are interested in our progress and want to keep up to date during the competition like us on Facebook.

January - March 2016: continued on water testing

At the start of 2016 the original Topcat vessel undertook significant on water testing. These tests focussed on preparing the vessel for research tasks for the Flinders University School of the Environment. After a months testing we were able to get a suitably accurate control system that followed desired transects. This was a big step for us as at this point the vessel was automatic. With a given set of desired transects the vessel could repeatably follow them within a half meter accuracy distribution.

February -July 2016: major systems upgrade

Due to the requirements for the 2016 RobotX challenge as well as the ongoing research projects for Topcat it was necessary to upgrade our system. We introduced a Velodyne LiDAR, steering actuators and a new CPU while redesigning and rebuilding the mounting systems to lower the centre of gravity in preparation for ocean trials. We also redesigned the electronics, including a custom PCBb, to facilitate the new system architecture.

This process took far longer than initially planned due to manufacturing delays but we were finally able to mount and integrate everything at the end of July.

September-November 2016: new systems testing

After upgrading our systems we were nearly back to square one, nothing had been tested on water. We first took the vehicle into our test tank and ensured that all safety systems and low level motor control was functioning correctly. Then, once we were satisfied it was back out to West Lakes to gather as much data with the new system as possible.

It was great to get the vessel back on the water and we are glad we had time to test and integrate the entire vessel prior to the competition. Especially because we found that our new system had some unusual problems which took time to solve.

November 2016: data gathering and simulation

After we finally got all our systems together and tested we were able to build the mock competition course items that we had planned to do earlier in the year. We constructed a dock out of upside down children's swimming pools, a few test 'Tiki Totems' with spare PVC tube, some fake obstacles out of exercise balls and a test ball target using some spare pine and some barrels from Scouts SA. We spent a couple of days gathering data and can now use it for tuning our object recognition a tracking algorithms while the vessel gets shipped.

As well as using the data gathered from the tests we have developed a full course simulator in Gazebo. This has helped a lot with the intitial testing and will allow us to test the software on a sample finals course which we could not physically build.

November 20, 2016: all shipped out!

We are currently in the process of packing all our hardware and performing last tests prior ot shipping the vessel. It has been a long road but we are happy to see everything come together and get packed into the container ready for assembly in Hawaii!

Although the vessel will be packed away and ready to leave we continue developing and testing software using our simulation course. This gives us an opportunity to improve the reliability of our systems and not lose testing time while Topcat travels to Hawaii.