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Robot subs head to the races

Can Florida's SubjuGator repeat as the winner in the 10th annual Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition? It'll have to beat out a flotilla of other college teams.

Collegiate teams from around the country--and a few from abroad--are arriving in San Diego for a competition to see who has the best robotic sub.

Wednesday is the check-in and orientation day for teams entered in the 10th annual Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition, put on by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Office of Naval Research. Then come several days of in-water practice and qualifying runs, with the finals scheduled for Sunday.

SubjuGator
The entrant from the University of Florida, the SubjuGator. Machine Intelligence Lab, University of Florida

The gist of the challenge is this: the robot vessels have to navigate their way across a large pool following a set course. They must also perform various tasks, including passing through a gate, dropping a marker and releasing a buoy. In addition, the point system takes into account the craftsmanship applied to the vehicle and the technical merit and writing style of the research paper submitted beforehand.

The awards: cash prizes of up to $20,000 and "serious bragging rights," according to the AUVSI.

Last year's winner, the cleverly named SubjuGator team from the University of Florida, will be back to defend its title. The Floridians built an entirely new sub for this go-round, using Microsoft's Robotic Studio for control, simulation and communication with a network of sensors, and upgrading to a single-board Intel Core 2 Duo-based computer running Windows XP.

Other schools entered into the 2007 competition include Cornell, Duke, MIT, North Carolina State and the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as Amador Valley High School from the San Francisco Bay Area. Foreign schools include the University of Ottawa, the Delhi College of Engineering and Japan's Kyushu Institute of Technology.

The battery-powered vessels can't be big. They must fit within a box that's 6 feet long by 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, and must weigh less than 140 pounds. And they have to not dawdle. Teams have 20 minutes on the dock: 5 minutes for preparation, and 15 minutes for performance in the 16-foot depths of the pool's competition section.

Check back later for CNET News.com's photo gallery of the competitors.