MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education), is an annual international underwater robotics competition that we started participating in our first year in 2009. This year the MATE competition was at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, Texas from June 23-25. Next year's international competition will take place in Long Beach, CA.
The MATE competition consists of several primary parts. First, teams must qualify their robots. For the explorer class (the hardest one and the one we do) teams can either videotape their robot doing a task specified in the competition rules and submit it online or take it to one of several regional contests and perform that same task in front of the judges. The ranger class (the next-easiest one and the only other class that competes at international) teams must take their robot to a regional and beat the other teams in a competition to advance to international. Second, teams must submit a technical report about their robot to the judges four weeks before the international competition. Once actually at the event, there are three more things teams must complete. Each team must give a presentation to a panel of judges and submit a poster to a special display session. The most exciting part is the mission itself. Teams are given 15 minutes to complete a series of tasks derived from some scenario (usually something based on real-life ocean science such as exploring a shipwreck). Typical tasks include deploying a custom sensor, manipulating PVC props, and bringing something up/down to/from the surface. Also, in order to simulate being on a boat with the robot deep underwater, pilots sit facing away from the pool and are not allowed to communicate with the tether handler. Most years (with the exception of 2015 when there were three separate runs each in a different pool and scores were added) teams perform the mission twice and the judges take the better score.
MATE gives a out a variety of awards to teams. There are the standard first, second, and third places in each class in addition to best score per class on the tech report, presentation, poster, and mission. In addition there are a variety of subjective awards that are not based on point values but the judges' discretion. Examples include team spirit, most cost-efficient robot, hardest challenge overcome, sportsmanship, and a few other things. The names on the subjective awards are more creative than that, though.
More information can be found on their website: http://www.marinetech.org
Our two pilots flying the ROV at MATE 2013
A view of the competition field in Orlando