- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) | The heist went off without a hitch for University of Maryland students who won an underwater robotic competition inspired by the film “Ocean’s Eleven.”

The robot developed by students at the university’s Clark School of Engineering bested 25 other entrants, winding its way through a course designed to resemble a Las Vegas casino.

The goal: To grab a safe and bring it to the roof — or, in this case, the surface of a pool.

Joseph Gland, a graduate student adviser for the RoboticsMaryland team from the school’s College Park campus, said the group managed to win despite setbacks such as the loss of the main vehicle computer, a broken propeller and problems with three laptops.

The Maryland team won the competition in only its second year of participation.

In the final competition Sunday at a research pool at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, robots had to find their way through a starting gate, follow a pipeline and dock with a buoy. They then had to find their way to a marker, grab the safe, surface with it, and take it to a floating ring representing the casino’s roof.

Members of the RoboticsMaryland team study a variety of disciplines including electrical, computer, aerospace and mechanical engineering, as well as physics, math and computer science.

The students tested their underwater robot, Tortuga II, in a facility at their school’s Space Systems Laboratory, a two-story indoor pool that is the only university-based neutral buoyancy facility in the country. The 50-foot diameter, 25-foot deep water tank is used to simulate the environment of space.

The students now are preparing to host a regional competition Sept. 6 for land robots called the Autonomous Robot Speedway.

Dave Akins, director of the laboratory, said the San Diego competition is one of the biggest in the “autonomous vehicle world, and it’s unheard of for a team to win in its second year.”

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