Northeastern’s Underwater Robotics Team Takes 8th at First Competition

The team poolside completing a collaborative mission with 3 other teams.

Northeastern Underwater Robotics Team designed and built an underwater robot that placed 8th at the MATE World Championships.

Back in September 2021, two fresh-faced students wandered into the NURobotics Lab in 440 Richards Hall for what would be the first meeting of the Northeastern Underwater Robotics Team. What they could’ve never imagined is that two years later, the team would grow to over 20 people strong, and place 8th at the MATE World Championships in Colorado.

Team photo with a species of fish native to Colorado Rivers.

The MATE ROV Competition is an international competition held every year, bringing teams from all over the world together to pit their Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) against each other. Teams compete in a series of simulated real-world marine challenges ranging from installing floating solar panels, to 3D modeling a coral head from photos. They also are judged on the technical abilities of their robots by experts from the marine industry.

The team would meet on Wednesday nights, starting with smaller Seaperch ROVs, and eventually growing to their final product: Mariana. Mariana was the product of over 1000 total hours of work and boasts a four-point-of-actuation arm as its most notable feature.

Mariana’s second run in the pool.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the team though, and in particular, one engineering challenge stood out: the claw. Thomas Davies, one of the lead mechanical engineers, explained, “The 3D printed gears kept slipping which would result in the claw not being able to close all the way, so we decided to switch to helical gears to create more contact.” Creative solutions like this one helped mitigate the issue, but there was still more to be solved for the claw.

Mariana wearing NU Wave team merch while waiting for a pool run.

The most unique aspect of underwater robotics is that every solution to a particular problem needs to be waterproof, and even the tiniest of errors can have a big consequence. As time went on in the competition, the once reliable servo that had controlled the claw had slowly taken on water damage, and approaching the final collaborative mission of the competition, it had completely given out. The team was prepared though, as Dylan Wolter, a member of the mechanical team recalls, “Luckily, we designed the claw with the ability to quickly swap servos, and we were comfortably able to make the swap and get our last 25 points.” Those 25 points would be crucial as they catapulted the team up two places allowing them to sneak into the top 8.

A photo with Team EPOXSEA from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Overcoming these challenges as a team led to NUWave beating Columbia University, the University of Washington, and Colorado University, but it wasn’t all about the competition. As team lead Jonah Jaffe puts it, “We got to meet teams from Hong Kong, Egypt, Canada, and so many other awesome places. That was a special experience all its own and I can’t wait to see those familiar faces next year.” The team is taking everything they’ve learned from this competition and setting their sights on winning the competition in 2024, as well as taking on some exciting new challenges in the world of marine robotics.

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering