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BURST at the poolside
BURST at the poolside
William Megill with BURST during a practice session
William Megill with BURST during a practice session

Press Release - 02 August 2006

Student submarine to compete in European competition

A submarine built by seven University of Bath students will be taking part in the first ever European underwater vehicle challenge at Pinewood studios later this week (3-6 August 2006).

To enter the competition, the team had to design and build a submersible vehicle capable of carrying out a range of underwater tasks, such as swimming through a submerged gate, dropping markers onto targets and hitting a floating object.

The challenge is made even harder in that the submarine has to be autonomous, meaning that it carries out these tasks without being directed by a human operator.

The Bath University Racing Submarine Team (BURST) will be one of eight entrants in the competition, which includes five British universities and one each from Norway, France and Spain.

The BURST submarine, which is about 1.5 metres long and 1 metre wide, has been built using parts from computers and other everyday equipment, including a controller from a Sony PlayStation.

It is powered by four flippers which, acting like a fish, both steer and drive the vehicle along. It also includes two webcams to help the vehicle recognise the targets and navigate through the water.

The competition will be held in one of the pools at Pinewood studios which was used in filming the underwater scenes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the James Bond movie Doctor No.

“This is the first time the competition has been held, so the design process has been a steep learning curve for everyone involved,” said Dr William Megill from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“The students have had only a small amount of input from academics in the Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science departments, so they can take full credit for what they have achieved so far.”

The team will be carrying out its final preparations in the workshop and University swimming pool later today (2 August) before travelling to London for the start of the competition on Thursday (3 August).

The team will be making final adjustments on Friday (4 August) before taking part in the heats on Saturday (5 August) and, hopefully, the final on Sunday (6 August).

The competition will involve five separate tasks:

“The challenges don’t sound particularly sexy, but they are really difficult to achieve, particularly when you think the submersible has to act autonomously,” said Dr Megill, who is a Lecturer in the University’s Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies.

“The design has used a lot of biomimetic principles; that is copying ideas from nature, such as the fin system, to achieve the results you want.

“It incorporates advanced deepwater technology so the inside of the canister is pressurised to help seal the joints and keep the water out.

“Also, the internal computer system uses artificial intelligence to give the sub the autonomy it needs.

“Once the race is finished we will be taking the sub to the west coast of Canada to carry out work on the distribution of shrimp in the grey whale feeding grounds there.

“So as well as being a particularly good final year student project, the sub will have a practical use in field research too.

“What we have learned this year will help next year’s students develop an even better machine.”

The students worked on the submarine as part of their final year project, and two post-graduate students helped with the sub’s final build.

The students, who have now graduated, are Glyn Waterhouse, Chris Pattinson, Grant Klimaytys, Chris Wallis, Aidan Coxon, Richard Sellen and William Chu.

The postgraduate students who have done much of the final build work are Keri Collins and Paul Riggs.

The technicians who have helped throughout are Steve Dolan and Jeff Brewster. Academics who have worked on the project include Drs William Megill (Mechanical Engineering), Joanna Bryson (Computer Science) and John Collomosse (Computer Science).

The BURST vehicle has been developed with funding from the Royal Society, British Maritime Technology DSL Ltd., the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and a range of local companies who have offered parts.

The 2007 Student Autonomous Underwater vehicle Challenge Europe (SAUCE) competition will take place in France, returning to the UK the following year.

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