Week-long robotic boats showdown in Marina Bay

SINGAPORE - For seven days from Monday, Minion will be navigating the waters of Marina Bay, avoiding obstacles, and attempting challenging tasks.

However, Minion is not the cute, yellow, and comical character from the movie Despicable Me. It is the name given to the highly sophisticated boat designed and programmed by the team from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) for the inaugural RobotX Challenge.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International runs the competition for the organiser - the United States Office of Naval Research.

Competing teams come from Singapore, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States with each country represented by three teams that were chosen in August last year.

Speaking from Florida, USA, Dr Charles Reinholtz, the chairman of ERAU's mechanical engineering department and the faculty advisor for Team Minion, said: "It is the big surface vehicle competition," said Dr Charles Reinholtz, the chairman of ERAU's mechanical engineering department and the faculty advisor for Team Minion. "You will see the teams that are successful at this will get contracts to do autonomous surface vehicle work,"

The competition will require the robotic boats to autonomously perform tasks such as navigation, obstacle avoidance, docking, locating objects underwater, and reporting on the colour of light panels.

The teams also have to prepare for any adverse weather and unforeseen circumstances in Singapore.

"If you get hit by lightning, it doesn't matter how good a job you've done," said Team Minion project lead Christopher Hockley. "It's going to be a big flaming pile of molten metal."

Dr Reinholtz said this competition also brings groups and countries together to build partnerships which help to expand the relationships between the United States and her Pacific Rim allies. He also hopes to be able to build a partnership between ERAU and a Singaporean university in the future.

"Singapore is going to be really cool; it's a special place," said Dr Reinholtz.