NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY)  – While many Old Dominion University students were studying for finals last month, one group was in Hawaii for a robotics competition. 

The group competed against more than a dozen other teams from all over the world with their innovative autonomous boat.

They’ve worked closely with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop this project. They donated the boat frame and the students developed and engineered a way for someone to use the boat without anyone controlling it on the water.

This was the students’ first year going and while they didn’t win, they still went home with more than $3,500.

“You go through your classes and you learn these skills and you learn certain methods, but you don’t really get to put them to use,” said ODU student, Andrea Robey.

Robey spent her finals week last month in Hawaii putting everything she’s learned in class at ODU to work on an unmanned boat.

“It requires a lot of hardware implementation electrical. Pretty much a confluence of every type of engineering you can think of,” Robey said.

Robey along with five other students engineered and developed a 16 foot long  and eight foot wide machine to operate autonomously.

Each team was required to equip their vessel with hardware, software, sensors, propulsion and control systems. The vessel had to be programmed to make independent decisions and to complete assigned missions including navigation, object identification, obstacle avoidance and data collection.

Lead research professor for the project, Yiannis Papelis, said all those tasks can be useful for our Navy’s day-to-day and special operations — but it goes further than that.

“Not only in just the research and development, but also in filling up their employment pipeline. They are continuously looking for qualified candidates to fill in their jobs, and so our students coming up with their own unique technology and know-how are prime candidates for those jobs,” said Papelis.

“Knowing that even as undergraduate students, we were able to do something that may assist them in making operation safer or gather information that is going to be essential to future technologies,” Robey said.

The competition was co-sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International Foundation and NAVATEK, a Hawaii-based company that designs ships, small crafts and other amphibious vehicles.

The team also received a $300 award for being a first-time competitor.