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Runner-up at the 1st Maritime RobotX Challenge

Development of world-class autonomous driving system for unmanned ships

“Unmanned ship technologies can be applied not just to fully automated ships but also to reduce accidents caused by human error and increase cost efficiency in manned ships. However, it is necessary that these technologies are verified in practical trials before industrial application. Open competitions are good opportunities to verify the state of the technology and enhance its maturity. This is why major research funding institutions such as the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are funding competitions in unmanned systems. Our team will continue to develop technologies that can be put to practical applications in the near future.”

Development of disturbance-resistant algorithm for unmanned ships

Although unmanned ships and unmanned underwater vehicles receive less publicity than unmanned aircraft and land vehicles, they will play an important role in the near future. The sea is an important part of the environment in terms of food sources, resources, and security but much of it remains inaccessible to humans. Thus, maritime vehicles account for a large potential scope of highly effective applications for unmanned systems. The 1st Maritime RobotX Challenge, held in October of last year, was organized by the US Office of Naval Research in the context of the rising need for unmanned ships in maritime environments together with unmanned cars and aircraft.

Professor Kim Jinwhan's team has been conducting research on unmanned maritime systems such as ships and submarines since before the competition, through government projects and autonomous research. They took part in the competition under recommendation from the Korean local organizing committee and sponsorship from Samsung Heavy Industries.

The process of preparing for the competition took a long time. After the US Office of Naval Research established organizing committees in the 5 participating countries (Korea, Japan, Australia, and the US) and requested the selection of participating teams; 3 teams from each country were selected through an evaluation to make up 15 university teams participating in the main competition. In December 2013, the Office of Naval Research supplied each team with an unmanned ship costing US$50,000 and preparation costs of $35,000 while announcing the specifics and regulations of the competition in five categories.

Then ensued the actual preparation for the competition by the individual teams. The provided ship body was a bare hull without any propulsion system or electrical units. The teams had to equip their ships with propulsion devices, various sensors for autonomous driving, computing devices, and power devices while developing complete operating software programs reflecting the categories and regulations of the competition. In less than a year of preparation, the teams had to not only develop the unmanned system but also conduct numerous outdoor tests, which meant countless hours of labor and untold amounts of effort.

The unmanned ship technology is a systems technology. Unlike individual materials or parts, it requires the integration of a variety of parts and sensors as well as functioning software to operate the system. Experiments are not conducted in controlled internal environments but in the changing weather conditions of all the seasons. Members of the team had to carry heavy equipment and repeatedly assemble and disassemble parts for crucial outdoor experiments. It was this process that enabled the team to accumulate a wealth of practical knowledge and develop one of the world's leading technologies in the field.

Top universities from around the world, such as MIT, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo Institute of Technology, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Queensland University of Technology, along with the domestic universities of KAIST, Seoul National University, and the University of Ulsan, participated in the challenge. Among the participants, the KAIST team was the only one to install a bow thruster system, enabling parallel movement for enhanced maneuvering, and his team showed the most consistent performance throughout a week-long competition period, bringing home second prize overall. The team was also awarded for having the best website. Combined with the runner-up prize from the American defense technology company Northrop Grumman Corporation, it received a total of US$16,500 in prize money.

Professor Kim Jinwhan's team successfully developed an autonomous ship driving technology that allows the computer to make decisions and commands based on information from the various sensors installed on the ship without human intervention. This includes core technologies such as autonomous driving, autonomous control, maritime object detection and identification, obstruction avoidance, and underwater sound source tracking. Prospective applications of the autonomous ship driving system developed by Professor Kim Jinwhan and his team can be found in a variety of fields such as waterway surveying, maritime exploration, monitoring of territorial waters, patrolling, and regulation of illegal fishing.

Prof. Kim, Jin whan
2014 Annual Report

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