Navy’s Midshipmen at forefront of maritime robotics

Published on LEUT Daryl Peebles (author and photographer)

Location(s): Launceston, TAS

Topic(s): Unmanned/Remote Systems

RAN Autonomous Surface and Underwater Vehicles (AMCATS) personnel at the Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Launceston, from left,  Midshipman (MIDN) Harry Hubbert, MIDN James Keane and MIDN Emily O’Brien. (photo: LEUT Daryl Peebles)
RAN Autonomous Surface and Underwater Vehicles (AMCATS) personnel at the Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Launceston, from left, Midshipman (MIDN) Harry Hubbert, MIDN James Keane and MIDN Emily O’Brien.

Three Royal Australian Navy Midshipmen studying for their Bachelor of Engineering (Naval Architecture) at the Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Launceston are breaking new ground in the design and application of Autonomous Surface and Underwater Vehicles.

So impressed by the unexplored capabilities of these devices and so dedicated to being part of the future development of these technologies, the young students formed the Australian Maritime College Autonomous Technology Society (AMCATS) last year with just a handful of members.

The AMCATS society’s inaugural president, Midshipman Harry Hubbert said that the interest in this subject and the society’s activities has grown substantially over the past year.

“AMCATS now has 35 members and it is growing,” MIDN Hubbert said.

“This year James took over as president and Emily as the society’s secretary,” he said, referring to MIDN James Keane and MIDN Emily O’Brien.

MIDN Keane said that drones were expanding their roles in both military and research applications. He particularly hopes to see their deployment for natural disaster response.

“In a similar way, much of the work we are doing is applying existing autonomous technologies onto maritime platforms,” he said.

There is significant interest being generated around the work AMCATS is doing, with AMCATS devices being deployed in Antarctica, and involvement in a range of international and national competitions and conferences.

“We have been invited to present papers at conferences in both Australia and New Zealand and are building valuable relationships with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), DMO, US Office of Naval Research, the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering and the CSIRO.

“As well as the support available here at the AMC, we have also been collaborating with Flinders University, which has a great robotics division,” MIDN Hubbert said.

“In October 2014 we will be one of 15 teams competing in an international robotic competition in Singapore (robotX.org). Hosted by the US Office of Naval Research, this competition entails an autonomous surface vessel navigating, avoiding obstacles and detecting underwater objects.

“We are very grateful for the help provided by the US Office of Naval Research, the AMC, DSTO and Flinders University which are enabling us to attend this prestigious event.

“Considering that we started with nothing just a year ago and now have access to research vessels worth over $1 million, we have come a long way,” he said.

The impressive aspect of AMCATS is that it is student run. However the students insist that they have had tremendous support from the AMC’s National Centre for Maritime Engineering and Hydrodynamics, with vital mentoring from expert Dr Alex Forrest.

Not only is the research potentially valuable to the future use of autonomous maritime vessels, but these Midshipmen are learning additional valuable lessons in project management through the establishment and their ongoing involvement with AMCATS.

This includes organisational skills, budgeting and resource allocation, negotiation and presentation skills.

The students aim to continue their research into this field of engineering, setting up a strong link between Defence, the DSTO, the AMC and AMCATS.