We attended TAC Challenge for the second time after they founded the competition last year!
TAC stands for Tau Autonomy Center, which is a center built by the sea used for research, testing and performing safety courses within offshore and autonomy.
When we participated last year we used our previous rendition of Beluga which were held together with aluminium profiles and way more strips. It did let us modify quite a bit for each competition run - but the main challenge then as it was now is that it's put together for a different kind of competition we'll participate in later.
This year's competition was compressed into two days (Mon-Tue) compared to last year's five days. There were two subsea competitors, Vortex NTNU and UiS Subsea, and two aerial teams, Ascend NTNU and a drone team from Lviv Polytechnic National University.
The day before was open for testing but we came too late with our equipment which was driven from Trondheim, a 14-hour roadtrip. That night was spent relocating some of our equipment on Beluga to fit the competition tasks the day after while reviewing the rule set we got the same day.
Day 1 - Pipeline Inspection
The tasks were similar to last year involving inspection of a pipeline and tasks put on a submerged structure. The first day was dedicated to the pipeline. Sadly the weather was far from optimal involving rain, waves and currents these small ROVs and AUVs are not meant to handle. And a result of the shaky weather was that the visibility underwater was very poor. You couldn't see anything more than a meter or so infront of you making following an overgrown pipeline that much harder.
Day 1 didn't result in much other than a few comments on the pipeline along it. But the was too uneasy to make any concrete conclusions. Our tether was over twice as long than the other team, but we were restricted to using batteries. For UiS, they had a much shorter cable but was powering the drone from land. When the day was over we had burned out two batteries due to the needed thruster power to keep Beluga in place.
Day 2 - Yellow, submerged structure
On Tuesday the weather was much nicer. Adapting from Monday we now had time limits of 10 minutes in the water our limited battery time. The competition runs were 30 minutes each meaning we could utilize 20 of them with a quick battery swap inbetween.
One of the tasks was to identify as many of the competition's sponsor logos as possible which were attached to the submerged structure. Another task was to rotate two valves, one the wall and one on the base of it pointing upwards. The second valve requires our drone to pitch down to lock our gripper on the valve and turn the drone itself since our gripper has no degrees of freedom. It's a challenging task we barely managed last year.
We managed to locate most of the sponsor logos and turned the horizontal valve. Overall the main prize went to the aerial drone time from NTNU while every other team got a smaller trophy for their participation. Looking forward to next year - and hopefully with an ASV as well!
Day 3 - Visiting Kongsberg Maritime
Another great part about this trip is that our main sponsor, Kongsberg, invited us to their offices in Horten to show us their underwater autonomous robotics. We made a pit stop in Horten with all our equipment, and they flew in 7 other interested Vortex members.
It was great to be able to visit Kongsberg Maritime and present our actual physical AUV since we were driving past on our way back from TAC Challenge. They treated us to a guided tour of many of the different facilities, lunch and meaningful conversations about marine robotics. We highly appreciate their continued active involvement in our project and we're amazed by their support!
The continuation of TAC Challenge has engaged our interests immensely, and they will definitely gain the status of Europe's coolest student competitions if they continue to host it. We're hoping for many new international teams to compete with next year. For now we will prepare Beluga for the AUV-competition RoboSub in the U.S. late July, and we have gained important insight into our system from TAC Challenge which we'll improve on before traveling.