AIMM high: First competition shows off Indiana student ingenuity

May 23, 2024

The first Artificial Intelligence Maritime Maneuver Indiana Collegiate Challenge (AIMM ICC) may have been competitive, but everyone came away a winner.

Trine University and Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division (NSWC Crane) hosted the inaugural event from April 26-28 at Pokagon State Park. Six Indiana colleges and universities competed to see whose artificial intelligence-guided low-profile vessel (LPV) could best complete a series of tasks.

AIMM ICC not only allowed the students to work on a real-world challenge with potential applications for rescue and drug interdiction, it provided the opportunity to network with defense contractors.

In addition, about 130 area high school students attended the event to learn more about the projects and participate in STEM activities.

“Our state is leading the way in defense innovation and manufacturing,” said Rep. Jim Banks (IN-3rd), who sponsored funding for the partnership between Trine and NSWC Crane. “Programs like AIMM’s collaboration between Trine University and Crane are not only important for strengthening our national defense, but for attracting and retaining the best minds from around the country to study and work right here in Indiana.”

“For the United States to maintain technological superiority, the U.S. Navy must seek out diverse input from a variety of sources, which includes academic partners like Trine University and all of our academic participants,” said Capt. Rex Boonyobhas, NSWC Crane Commanding Officer. “Maintaining this technological edge ensures Americans and our allies can enjoy the freedoms that come along with the freedom of the seas, like maintaining safe trade and travel while also providing security to undersea cables that provide 90 percent of transcontinental internet traffic.”

“It was great to see how the initial vision of AI for Maritime Maneuver played out with success at Pokagon State Park,” said Dan Cabel, deputy assistant secretary of defense for prototyping and experimentation. “The teams took on the challenge and made the vision a reality in a short time frame; true teamwork and collaboration. Seeing what the universities developed in such a short time frame was a true testament to what we do in the Department of Defense — rapid response development and experimentation. This experience is value added in our future DoD workforce."

“What we're really working toward is opening up a pathway for young individuals to see how making an impact for our nation's defense can be an exciting opportunity and career path,” agreed Jason Blume, assistant vice president for Trine innovation1.

At the top

In the competition itself, Trine University and the University of Notre Dame split first and second places between the four categories.

Trine took top honors in the technical design report and project presentation. The Thunder finished second in the course challenge and overall grand champion.

The other competing schools were Indiana University, Purdue-West Lafayette, Purdue-Fort Wayne and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

“Students demonstrated their expertise on a wide range of technologies,” said Andrea Mitofsky, Ph.D., professor of electrical engineering. “They designed and wired the electrical system to propel the boat. They planned out, performed stability analysis on and built a crane for picking objects out of the water. They developed and implemented a communication system using Bluetooth technology to communicate between the boat, a device on shore and a sensor buoy they designed and deployed. They also developed a neural net for image recognition of the different colored buoys on the course.”

“All of these technologies came together into their one successful boat.”

Trine University’s success in AIMM ICC went far beyond what happened over one weekend.

AIMM ICC began as a cooperative effort between NSWC Crane and the university, launched by Banks’ funding initiative. A team of Trine students worked with Crane to develop and manufacture the LPVs each university used for the competition, while a second team built a lab on campus to develop the AI controller.

As a result of their work on the project, five Trine students have been offered and accepted full-time positions with NSWC Crane after graduation.

“Our students have benefited greatly from their work with Crane,” said John Shannon, Ph.D., Trine University president. “They been able to work on real national defense problems, help work toward solutions and, in the process, gain valuable experience to help prepare them for future career success.”

Ongoing efforts

Those involved with AIMM ICC said they are looking forward to its future growth and the innovation fueled by the competition.

“Our goal with participation was to inspire, engage, and educate the next generation of problem-solvers who will tackle some our nation’s toughest challenges,” said Capt. Boonyobhas. “We hope to see the event grow every year to provide opportunities for more and more students to engage with science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.”

“This is just the beginning of something I'm convinced is going to last for a long time to come,” said Banks. “I'm looking forward to doing whatever I can to support this partnership.”

“I was impressed to see the level of camaraderie and sportsmanship shared between all of the competing schools,” said Blume. “We emphasized from the beginning that yes, this was a competition, but each team was truly competing against the challenges set before them. The focus of AIMM was to advance design and programming for AI among our peer Indiana schools and to drive AI forward for the Department of Defense.”

“I solidly believe that the more than 70 faculty and students who participated in the inaugural AIMM ICC all grew professionally and learned how to design for real-world situations they will encounter in their professional careers. This was an outstanding showcase of how Indiana’s hard-working students can meet and address challenges that are evolving for our nation’s defense.”

The Office of Naval Research, the Applied Research Institute and Follet Bookstore sponsored the event.

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