UF’s robotic boat is a world champion.

UF’s team, PropaGator, won first place in the International RoboBoat Competition last week.

The engineering competition, hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, was a six-day team challenge held in Virginia. Boats had to perform several tasks and overcome obstacles. The PropaGator displaced 115 pounds of water and was 72 inches by 30 inches by 28 inches.

The team of UF students spent eight months and about 5,000 hours working on the boat, but team leader Andrew Gray said the stress was worth it.

“Everything we did was a little challenge in itself,” said the 29-year-old electrical and computer engineering graduate student.

The team had originally planned to enter a robotic lawn mower competition, but it had to switch gears to build a boat when the mower competition was canceled.

“We really had no experience going into this competition,” Gray said.

Because the boats are autonomous, Gray said where the boat goes is completely dependent on the computer programming — not a remote control.

It’s like being a parent on the sidelines of a child’s soccer game, Gray said — once it was on the field, there was nothing he could do.

UF’s team was awarded $3,000 for winning first place. Gray said the money will go into funding other projects and paying off debts from the competition.

Eric Schwartz, associate director for UF’s Machine Intelligence Lab and the team’s faculty advisor, said the boat is worth between $14,000 and $15,000, but because the team used donated parts, Schwartz said, it spent about $6,000 on the boat for this competition.

He said the skills students learn through projects like the boat that prepare them for their careers.

“What they learn they won’t get in any other class; this is real engineering,” he said. “The classroom teaches you a bunch of fun facts, and in the labs you build on those facts. There’s no better way to learn material than to use it.”

Contact Alexa Volland at [email protected].