We have seen teams developing AUV robustness and resilience to overcome failures and fostering advancement of state of the art through ERL Emergency competitions.
Gabriele Ferri, ERL Emergency 2018 Director
Fausto Ferreira, ERL Emergency 2018 Deputy Director
This story was first published in the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society Beacon Newsletter
December 2018, Volume 7, Number 4
The European Robotics League (ERL) Emergency Robots is an outdoor robotics competition funded by the European Union in the framework of the SciRoc H2020 Project. After the success of RockEU2 project (2016-2018) and the launch of ERL in three vibrant fields of robotics: industrial, service and emergency robots, SciRoc project extends the ERL concept to Smart Cities environment.
NATO-STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) has been organizing Student AUV Challenge—Europe (SAUC-E), the premier European student competition for underwater vehicles, since 2011. SAUC-E allowed CMRE to be part of the euRathlon EU project in which CMRE organized the first world’s multi-domain (air, sea, land) robotics competition in 2015, the euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge, which was inspired by the Fukushima 2011 accident. Following the success of last year’s ERL Emergency 2017 competition, which was organized by CMRE in Piombino (Italy), the Centre was once again privileged to host this year’s land + marine competition in La Spezia at CMRE’s premises.
CMRE hosted the annual European Robotics League (ERL)-Emergency 2018 robotics competition from 14 to 20 July. It was a double domain competition where land robots and AUVs could participate. This year competition was based on a Yacht accident in a harbour connecting it to the general theme of the SciRoc project: Smart Cities. This materialized in tasks similar to those presented in ERL Emergency 2017 such as underwater structure inspection, passing though validation gates and searching for a missing person underwater, represented by a realistic mannequin. This year we added obstacle detection and avoidance and detection of a wall damage (represented by a marker) for what regards the marine domain. The land domain had also some novelties and the scenario was as challenging as in Piombino according to teams’ feedback.
As in the previous SAUC-E editions, the challenges were held at the CMRE waterfront sea basin, which is a sheltered harbor that offers participants the opportunity to handle real-life sea conditions, including limited visibility and salty water, but within a safe, controlled environment. The limited visibility added severe difficulties to object recognition by AUVs, even if the targets were bright orange or red in colour.
Nonetheless, several teams were able to tackle the tasks, mostly achieving their goals. Unfortunately, one of the teams had a major hardware fault (DVL) that could not be debugged even by the manufacturer in remote support. Out of the 4 marine teams registered, all tested their vehicles in the water. One of the teams, due to their limited experience could not accomplish much but they did learn a lot and improved their vehicle considerably. This is part of the mission of this competition: serving as a hands-on learning experience for less experienced teams. These teams might have rare access to the water and attending a challenging competition in real world conditions is an excellent opportunity to learn and validate their vehicles.
One of the interesting things we have noticed is the evolution of the teams over the past years. We have seen significant and steady progress from year to year in several teams. For instance, AUV Team TomKyle managed to run their AUV even after the major hardware fault. The robustness that they have shown comes from 5 years of experience in robotics competitions. The winning UNIFI Team has shown resilience since in ERL Emergency 2017 their vehicle had a major leak and sank leading to a revamped vehicle in 2018. Not only, they have improved their sonar processing, machine learning techniques and acoustic communication capabilities. An example of their sonar mosaic of the competition arena obtained with the FeelHippo AUV is shown in Figure 1. The below figure is obtained from , a paper published at IEEE OES AUV’2018 Symposium based on the results of the ERL Emergency 2018 competition. This is the kind of impact we wish to have in the community where the advancement of state of the art through competitions is then shared through scientific papers.
The Participant Teams
This year we had to limit the number of teams to 8 teams (4 land and 4 sea) due to the logistics involved for a double domain competition in the La Spezia site. Due to last minute drop-outs, we had 6 teams (4 sea and 2 land) of which one had two domains. Of these, 5 had previously participated in our competitions, showing how ERL/SAUC-E is today a fixed appointment for several European research groups. Moreover, one of the teams had been away from the competition for 2 years and came back this year, which highlights that the competition can be a strong stimulus for research groups to continue working on underwater vehicle technology.
As we did for the past four years, CMRE was able to loan, without charge, one AUV robotic kit to be given to a team. As in ERL Emergency 2017, the robotic kit was the basic version of a SPARUS II AUV with a DVL. This initiative aims to expand the number of teams by providing a selected team a sort of “jump start”, since building an underwater robot is not a trivial task, and to promote rapid development and innovation. This year the chosen team was Fuerteventura BD Robotics. This team had some past experience with this robot. This year the team had very little time to practice with the robot and integrate the payload, which reflected in the performance. The SPARUS II is a success story of the past years of competitions. The platform was designed and produced based on the experience matured in previous editions and is currently commercialized by a spin-off of the University of Girona. This is the kind of technology transfer that we would like to encourage as an output of robotics competitions.
The Participant Teams Were:
- AUV Team Tom Kyle (Germany); from the University of Applied Sciences of Kiel. This team has participated since 2014 yearly in our competitions. Typically a marine team, this year, due to last minute issues with their land partner, they brought their own small land vehicle.
- Fuerteventura BD Robotics (Spain); from the company Black Display Robotics in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain. This was their first participation, although part of the team members participated previously as participants in other teams.
- MSAS (Mobile Spatial Assistance System); the land MSAS land team comes from NASK company in Poland. First participation as MSAS but the same vehicle and part of the team participated previously in 2015 and 2017.
- Team Bath Marine Drones; from the University of Bath, UK. This team participated for the first time showing that the competition continues to attract new teams.
- UNIFI Team; from the University of Florence (Italy). A veteran of our competitions (first participation in 2012).
The winners of the ERL Emergency 2018 sea + land Tournament were:
- 1st Place - UNIFI Robotics Team + MSAS
- 2nd Place - AUV Team TomKyle
Other prizes awarded were:
- “Creativity Award – land team” – AUV Team TomKyle,
- “Best Rookie Award” – Team Bath Drones Marine,
- “Best Marine Team Award” – UNIFI Robotics Team,
- “Best Fair Play Award” – AUV Team TomKyle,
- “Persistency Award” – Fuerteventura BD Robotics,
- “Resilience Award” – AUV Team TomKyle.
This year we had a large pool of judges coming from all over Europe and the U.S. We are pleased to thank AUVSI, IEEE OES, CNR-INM, Jacobs University, Polytechnic University of Le Marche, University of Padova, University of the West of England and the University of Zagreb, who provided exceptionally qualified judges, increasing the quality of the competition. Dr. Bill Kirkwood also presented a plaque in appreciation for the organisation of the competition to the local organizing committee.
IEEE OES played a fundamental role as the Main Sponsor. One of the ERL goals is to educate future multi-disciplinary engineers. Therefore, the sponsorship of ‘Breaking the Surface’ 2018, the 10th Interdisciplinary Field Workshop of Marine Robotics and Applications, is well aligned with our mission. The organizers of ‘Breaking the Surface’ provided 2 complimentary registrations to the best rookie team and 2 to the land team that won the creativity award, allowing 4 students to participate in the 10 years edition of this multi-disciplinary and educational workshop.
We also engaged with the marine robotics commercial sector, with Blue Robotics that offered three vouchers for their online shop to the teams that won the Resilience award, the Persistency award and the Best Marine Team award. This will help these teams to improve their vehicles for the next editions.
Our aim is to continue to develop ERL Emergency as a unique event that challenges teams with realistic conditions, with an emphasis on multi-vehicle cooperation (through double and three-main competitions). These achievements were made possible thanks to the fundamental support of IEEE OES and all our other sponsors. We thank all the teams, judges, exhibitors, visitors and everyone involved, who made ERL Emergency 2018 such as a successful event.
ERL Emergency 2019
ERL Emergency is back in 2019 with two local tournaments: a land and aerial robots competition and a marine and land robots competition.The first one takes place in Seville from 18 to 23 February and the latter one in La Spezia from 14 to 19 July. Check the website if you wish to participate or know more!
 Matteo Franchi, Alessandro Ridolfi, Leonardo Zacchini, “A Forward-Looking Sonar-Based System for Underwater Mosaicing and Acoustic Odometry”, 2018 IEEE OES Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Symposium (AUV 2018), Porto, Portugal.
- Participating Teams
ERL Emergency 2018 Director
ERL Emergency 2018 Deputy Director, IEEE OES Administrative Committee Member 2019