UF students are using common technologies from smartphones to develop autonomous robots.

A team of UF graduate and undergraduate students at the Machine Intelligence Lab are creating an autonomous vehicle system known as PropaGator.

PropaGator won the International RoboBoat Competition in 2013 and placed second in 2014.

PropaGator is a fully autonomous surface watercraft that runs on sensors, motions and GPS systems that are similar to those used in common computers and smartphones.

Andrew Gray, a 30-year-old UF first-year doctoral student in the electrical and computer engineering program, said autonomous robots like PropaGator are the future of technology.

“Who wouldn’t want to sleep on the drive to work?” Gray said.

The PropaGator team, led by Gray, has spent several hours at Lake Alice running tests on equipment and collecting data.

The boat uses a sensor that indicates if the boat is level in the water, which is similar to a sensor used in most smartphones that senses when the phone is turned and rotates the screen, Gray said.

The boat “sees” with an infrared laser, much like the one used in desktop mouses. It also sends and receives information via a common wireless router.

The team is also working to link the PropaGator with an autonomous helicopter that is powered by the processor from a Samsung Galaxy S3, Gray said.

Using 3-D printers, lathes and fiberglass molds, the team has created a fully autonomous surface watercraft.

The hull, for example, is made by laying pre-cut fiberglass pieces into a custom mold. Gray said the multiple triangular pieces give the boat a stealth-like shape, serving a completely practical purpose: ease of manufacturing.

“Imagine trying to make a peel that goes around an orange,” he said. “How would you do that?”

Douglas Tom, a UF biology junior, said he is interested to see what progress comes from work with autonomous systems.

“You’ve got to step outside those bounds of security and comfortability to actually see change and make a change,” the 20-year-old said.

With the International RoboBoat Competition coming up again this summer, the team is getting ready to reclaim the first place title.

But they are chasing more than a title. Gray said the students are moving the passions and goals of everyone engaging in autonomous systems forward.

“Everyone’s gonna go autonomous,” Gray said. “Aircraft, ground vehicles, all that, it’s gonna happen eventually, hopefully during our lifetime.”

[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 10/27/2014]