VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Engineering students from Old Dominion University and from across the world are in Virginia Beach this weekend, competing in the 6th Annual RoboBoat competition.
And the event doesn't just attract some of the brightest young minds in the world; it also has the attention of the U.S. Navy.
10 On Your Side's Art Kohn got a look at the practice rounds Friday and a glimpse into the future.
Unmanned crafts are rapidly becoming a reality in the United States Navy, and believe it or not, much of the technology is born in ponds and pools near colleges and universities.
Engineering students have taken over the pond behind the Founders Inn in Virginia Beach for the weekend, which has been transformed into laboratory of sorts for their robotic boats.
The boats navigating the course may resemble radio controlled boats, but they're not. The boats are autonomous and represent something far more significant than a toy.
"When these things are being deployed for the competition itself, there's no human intervention at all," said Daryn Davidson, Executive Director of the Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Davidson says maneuverability is not the only criteria. The robotic vessels must respond to simulated threats that confront the Navy and the Coast Guard in the real world.
"They want to be able to figure out how to do these things by taking humans out of these boats and having robotic boats that are doing operations 24 / 7," Davidson said.
A team from Michigan State presented their concept to the judges, who include representatives from the Office of Naval Research scouting for bright young minds to advance the field of robotics.
"There really is great value in what's going on here at RoboBoat today," said Captain Robert Palisin, Assistant Chief of Naval Research.
And that value is for both the Navy and the students.
"The project really forces us to learn on the fly," said ODU graduate student Christopher Johnson. "Especially with the programming, the designing some of the parts..."
The robotic boats have value for civilians as well as our military. The competition finals are open to the public and will be held Sunday afternoon at the Founders Inn.
You can also watch the event live via webcast at www.roboboat.org .
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