The Marine Robotics Club is a registered student organization at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) whose main focus is giving students a hands-on experience with robotics in the maritime environment. This includes the design, fabrication and testing of autonomous systems designed with certain competitions in mind.
Located in South Florida, FAU is the perfect setting for programs centered on marine engineering and robotics, as it is located just miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Working in saltwater environments poses its own set of unique circumstances and challenges that students learn to work with and overcome.
These competitions are designed to mimic current industry and military applications of marine robotics, such as port security, oceanographic operations and coastal surveillance. The club currently designs vehicles for the RoboSub, RoboBoat and RobotX competitions.
Boca Bearing has been a huge help in recent times in preparing for these contests as there are so many places where these vehicles require both bearings and lubricants. In addition, these vehicles are always heavily exposed to saltwater, which can mean traditional metal bearings may lead to reduced life spans of various subsystems of the vehicles.
Boca Bearing was a sponsor of both RoboBoat 2016 and RobotX 2016. These competitions were held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Honolulu, Hawaii, respectively.
The marine robotics club has used Boca Bearing full-ceramic bearings for different applications. For RoboBoat 2016, the team used Boca bearings inside a mostly 3D-printed winch system to launch and recover a small ROV. These bearings worked well since it was a low-load application with a need for a highly corrosion-resistant bearing. These bearings performed flawlessly throughout the competition and were able to help the FAU Marine Robotics Club complete the underwater scan challenge in Virginia.
There was also a winch built to launch and recover a VideoRay ROV for RobotX. This winch, however, was not able to be tested under full load. The 3D-printed part that coupled the spool and motor shaft were not able to handle the forces being applied to it and thus needed to be remade as a CNC aluminum part in order to handle the load. The other use of the full-ceramic bearings that worked very reliably were in the thruster mounts. These bearings were used in the system that steered the trolling motors powering the vehicle. Using ceramic bearings was necessary for this application because this system is not intended to be disassembled for long periods of time and needs to be able to run smoothly with only freshwater rinses after being in the ocean or Intracoastal.
Any bearing failure during the competition would have been devastating, precluding the team from having been able to finish the race. Similar steel or even standard stainless steel bearings would require replacement after any prolonged exposure to the elements, and changing them out would be too time consuming for competition.
One other small benefit of using the ceramic bearings was weight reduction. Full-ceramic bearings are usually one-third of the weight of standard steel bearings. This small weight reduction adds up to an advantage for the team in competition.
The 2016 RobotX Maritime Challenge was the second time the competition had been put on by the AUVSI Foundation. The first RobotX was in Singapore, and the 2016 competition was in Honolulu, Hawaii. Competing teams had to complete the following tasks: demonstration of navigation and control; finding totems and avoiding obstacles; identifying symbols and dock; scanning the code on a buoy; underwater shape identification; finding a break on the seafloor; detection and delivery of objects related to a floating platform; and acoustic pinger-based transit. The FAU Marine Robotics Club collaborated with Villanova University in a team effort for RobotX 2016, which took place December 11 to 18, 2016.
The FAU-Villanova team was called Team WORX. Thirteen teams attended the RobotX, and they all had to figure out how to ship their 16-ft.-long boats from all over the world to Hawaii, then how to assemble the boats on site and prepare them for competition. Once a team had their vehicle assembled, they were then allowed to take it to the water and remote control it over to one of the three courses to which they had been assigned. In order to qualify for the semifinals, each team had to score points on five of the seven challenges. Before a team was allowed to attempt these challenges, however, they had to demonstrate autonomous control of their vehicle by running through the navigation channel autonomously. This qualifying took place for the first four days of competition, and the FAU-Villanova team was able to qualify for the semifinals on the last day allowed. This made it one of seven teams to make it to the semifinals.
Since neither Team WORX nor Georgia Tech tallied any points in the semifinals, the two teams were allowed to go head-to-head in a wildcard to make it into the finals. The requirement was that, in order to get into the finals, the team must beat the other team and score 50 points on the course. Unfortunately for the Georgia Tech team, its port thruster went out, and they were unable to leave the beach. For Team WORX, there was a malfunction in the acoustics system, leaving the robot stuck on the first obstacle on the run and only able to score 10 points to place sixth. Overall, though, the competition was a great learning experience for all the engineers involved. Kudos to the Florida Gators (University of Florida) for their overall victory in the competition. ST