Triton Robosub: making progress in a pandemic
Like so many student organizations in 2020, the Triton Robosub team at UC San Diego was forced to pivot from a hands-on, aquatic robotics competition to a fully online format where the team was judged on their technical designs, team video, and website. Fresh off their Blue Robotics Sponsor Award win for creatively integrating sponsored parts into their designs, the Triton Robosub team took the COVID-19-mandated distancing as an opportunity to find a way to work while following CDC guidelines, as well as improve their organization as a whole.
“That six-month remote period gave us a lot of time to critically think about our designs, really think about our software, and just overall improve a lot of aspects of the team,” said Patrick Paxson, Triton Robosub founder and computer science student. “As a group of officers, we had a clearer vision of what we wanted to work towards. This quarter we have made a lot of progress towards getting better at underwater engineering and improving a lot of aspects in terms of our robot’s hardware and software.”
Through the pandemic, Triton Robosub has been able to both continue progress on ongoing projects like FishSense, and collaborate with other engineering organizations on campus on new projects. FishSense is a handheld camera and data acquisition project done in collaboration with fellow student group Engineers for Exploration. Despite the circumstances, both organizations have been able to attend weekly meetings, maintain constant communication with each other, and will begin the device prototyping in winter quarter.
“[FishSense] is essentially a project where we develop a handheld recreational diver data acquisition system in order to measure fish length, biomass information, and species information for ocean ecosystem monitoring,” Paxson said. “We want to create a one-handed device that takes advantage of the commercially available Intel RealSense D455, a depth camera.”
With the FishSense project, both organizations contribute to the monitoring of ocean ecosystems and their maintenance. Their design testing has continued throughout fall quarter, and they plan to continue with prototyping FishSense through the winter.
Another project that Triton Robosub has been able to complete during this period is AI Tracks at Sea. This challenge, issued by the US Navy, was to track the longitude and latitude of boats from a provided dataset gathered from a single camera sitting at a dock that monitored boats passing by. The students had to create a computer vision algorithm capable of tracking the boats’ locations with the data provided by the Navy.
“This was a fairly challenging project mainly because of the limitations in the hardware. Computer vision is hard to do, especially for accurately measuring things like longitude and latitude,” said Paxson. “The dataset was somewhat limited because it was hard to pick out the boat we were looking for from some of the background boats, so we had to train a custom algorithm to identify their particular boat. Another thing was that the lens was fisheye, so it was different from the human eye. The final thing is, estimating distances becomes infinitely easier when you have two cameras, similar to the way the human eye works. Unfortunately, their system is limited to one camera so we did our best. We submitted the final version on December 1st.”
The AI Tracks at Sea is a competition with monetary prizes. With a $200,000 total prize pool, Triton Robosub could place in the top seven teams and walk away with a cash prize. If they do earn a top-seven spot, hey intend to use their earnings to fund their prototyping work for winter quarter.
Robosub has been able to stay connected to their members, sponsors and supporters through social media, but recently they also began to live stream their progress on Twitch. The team showcases the work they have been able to do, and keeps everyone updated through their live testing of the AUVs. Aside from updates, the business team has been able to set up workshops with representatives from local companies BrainCorp and Teledyne Marine to hold a resume workshop and discuss workplace expectations. The team would like to continue with these types of workshops, as well as use online platforms like Twitch and Zoom to incorporate other types of events.
“Details aren’t ironed out, but we want to have software workshops and also a high school outreach,” said Brian Chen, Triton Robosub’s social media and public relations manager. “Essentially we’re going to get members from each subteam to reach out to their old high schools’ robotics or computer science clubs to potentially work with us.”
Despite the setbacks that the pandemic has put on Triton Robosub, they have adapted to their new normal. Instead of taking the easy route of shelving projects indefinitely, the Robosub team has been hard at work with FishSense, they wrapped up work with AI Tracks @ Sea, and have plans to move forward with their original plans from past spring during spring 2021.
“We want to showcase the cool projects that we’re doing,” Chen said, “and showcase that the quarantine is not going to stop us from being productive.”