A ‘smart’ search and rescue boat, developed at QUT, is about to compete at the international Maritime RobotX Challenge.

One day, it’s hoped the craft will help save lives at home, in real-life water rescues.

Jacob Carson reports.


Doctor Matthew Dunbabin and his QUT students are testing their driverless boat in the calm waters of Wivenhoe Dam.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin, QUT Researcher: “Unlike today, where it’s a nice fine day, most of the time it’s actually quite rough conditions, so we’re expecting to be able to operate this in very high sea-states, potentially when humans can’t go out on the water.”

The team has spent the past nine months creating the hardware, onboard this prototype, nicknamed ‘Bruce’.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin, QUT Researcher: “What we’ve had to do is sensorise it, put lasers, cameras, GPS, all these types of sensors to make it drive by itself.”

During the Singapore contest, the boat will have to avoid hazards, scan for submerged items and dock successfully.

While Dr Dunbabin and his team hope for a good result overseas, their final goal is to save lives.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin, QUT Researcher: “Actually what we really want to do is make this a good search-and-rescue tool, we want to start to apply this offshore when conditions are just too rough for humans to actually go out and try to expediate the search and rescue process.”

The team’s next stop will be Marina Bay, Singapore, where Bruce will compete in Google’s RobotX Marine Challenge.

It’s hoped that the technology in these boats will be developed further to improve safety conditions on the water and at sea.

Jacob Carson, QUT News.