Irish Naval Service wins underwater robot obstacle race

19 Jul 2016

Members of the winning Mechathon Irish Naval Service team LS Patrick Reidy, S/LT Marcus Ryan, and TTERA Kevin Hanifin. Photo via Darragh Kane

A novel competition that saw Irish-built underwater robots race through an obstacle course for a prize of €1,500 saw the Irish Naval Service claim top spot.

Robots are not restricted to terra firma confrontations, with the sea and the skies equally entertaining battlegrounds. That’s the logic behind the Irish Maritime and Energy Resources Centre (IMERC) challenge recently won by the Irish Naval Service.


Given three months to build a robot that could complete an underwater obstacle course, the Irish Naval Service’s bot was deemed “most effective and efficient” by the judges.

Taking the top prize of €1,500, the Irish Naval Service saw off competitors from the Halpin Centre for Research and Innovation in Cork Institute of Technology, the MaREI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, Tyco, and Tyndall National Institute.

Enterprise Ireland’s Martin Corkery, who was a judge at the IMERC Mechathon, was quick to point out the relevance underwater robots play in the country’s pursuit to capitalise on the ‘blue economy’.

“Underwater robots are driving the exploration of our seas and oceans in ways that were never possible before so it is encouraging to see the teams here today develop functioning and effective underwater robots in a relatively short space of time, and with a small budget,” he said.

As part of I WISH Imagines – an initiative that aims to inspire, encourage and motivate young female students to pursue careers in STEM – each participating team mentored a female transition-year student for the duration of the competition.

The actual event was hosted at the Lir National Ocean Test Facility in Cork, where Mechathon co-ordinator Martin Wall lauded the students involved who “helped to brainstorm, prototype and build the robot” over the course of the project.

Lir is a custom-designed test facility within the MaREI Centre, which houses four tanks at various scales and depths for emulation of ocean waves, currents and wind. Along with the likes of SmartBay in Galway, it is part of a dedicated shift towards the development of marine technology around the country.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic