The Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) Unmanned Systems (OTUS) robotics team participated in the 20th annual International RoboSub Competition, an autonomous underwater robotics student competition held in July at the Navy's underwater testing pool in San Diego. OTUS (also a genre of Owls and a sibling of Oregon Tech mascot Hootie) is based on AUVSI (International Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems) club members, consisting of mostly senior project students with some juniors and sophomores, coming from departments such as manufacturing and mechanical engineering and technology, computer systems engineering technology, and electrical engineering at Oregon Tech.

Since the start of the competition in 1998, the technology has evolved in complexity, such as a single computer to multiple computer boards and engineering programs to cross-disciplinary skills, which push competition tasks to the limit. RoboSub 2017 centered on the movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a truly fantastic voyage from the lost city of Atlantis to the South pole, climbing aboard the Nautilus and into the underwater world adventure. In keeping with previous years, teams are given the charge to design a sub from scratch - building, fabricating, testing (semi to self-driving) an underwater vehicle and more importantly, keeping water out.

Numerous students, as well as faculty adviser Dr. Don Lee, an assistant professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology, designed, built, and honed the design for months, implementing lessons learned from the previous year’s competition. Unfortunately, at the start of the completion a short-circuit of the main computer board proverbially sunk the team’s dream to advance the next round. After rebuilding the system and software the sub tried to recognize the gate and objects in the blue-green haze of the pool their submarine but failed to qualify for the next stage of competition. However, as OTUS was recognized last year as the only team among 50 teams that designed a self-propelled miniature Torpedo (without guidance) and impressed a panel of judges at the presentation, this year OTUS brought a version 2.0 that was even smaller and faster, with an impressive two-camera vision system like the human eye or a cutting-edge cellphone. MMET Department chairperson, Dr. Jeff Hayen, mentioned that competing with national teams is meaningful and keeps improving Oregon Tech and puts our TECH in the global standard. The OTUS team was also lucky to be the only RoboSub team to get an unforgettable tour of the Navy Underwater Laboratory near the venue with the help of civil engineering alumnus Michael Grier. 

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As a polytechnic university, Oregon Tech students and faculty have a special drive for robotics challenges because it requires many hands-on technologies based on the STEM disciplines, which brings many schools (most of them research institutions) from around the world. "It's not much different [than] what they are doing in companies," said an industry representative who was hiring at the event. Long-time reigning champion Cornell University has annually more than 40 students, with a budget 10 times bigger. With fewer resources, the OTUS team is able to still be a big player in an international field of robotics enthusiasts.

In addition to the support of Ella Redkey pool, Kelly Caleb of Oregon Tech Athletics and members from around campus joined together to support the team. Dr. Erin Foley of Student Affairs; Dr. Hallie Neupert, Interim Dean of College of Engineering; Dr. Jeffrey Hayen, Chairman of MMET Department with Barb Metcalf and Phil Dussel; and the Oregon Tech Foundation were all crucial to the team competing. Wisdom from Prof. Moravec, a saga of FSAE and BAJA Competition was invaluable. Support was also given by ASOIT and Business staff, especially Barb Meng and Cindy Childers, respectively, for administrative works. Students who have been dedicated to the RoboSub project are as follows: Kai Hattan, Peter Stine, Greg Spallas, Kevin Tjon, Ben Ford, Tyler Lewis, Julien MidlinDavidson, Connor Skudlarek (the latter two students from AUVSI) and also senior project students (John McInturf, William Smith, Adam Kendra) during 2016-2017.

To learn more about the competition visit or the OTUS team website at, and