About the Team

McGill Robotics has several aims: to foster interest in robotics through competition, to cultivate a relationship with the surrounding Montreal community, and much closer to home, to create a core community at McGill via the “Team Before Machine” philosophy, which prioritizes team bonding and growth along with engineering accomplishment.

At McGill Robotics, we put an emphasis on building up team comradery and sharing skills, with the belief that it takes a solid team to build a winning robot. This year we have a core team of 210 students from 14 departments including a large group of new students! We have expanded and now include three design projects: our Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Project, participating in the RoboSub Competition; our Mars Rover Project, participating in the University Rover Challenge and European Rover Challenge; and finally, our Drone Project, participating in the Student Unmanned Aerial Systems Competition. Additionally, our Business Team manages the substantial organizational effort, marketing strategies, and outreach program.


The first part of the year is devoted to equipping the team with relevant skills needed for robotics and getting to know each other in a professional setting. An emphasis on team before machine will optimize our competition performance in the long run as we put in long hours together with a shared passion for the project. Senior members work closely with the new students to transfer their knowledge and prepare them to be our future leaders.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

The Competition

Every summer the U.S. Office of Naval Research and AUVSI Foundation hold the International RoboSub competition in San Diego, California. Teams from as far as the U.S., Singapore, Russia and, of course, Canada converge at the TRANSDEC Anechoic Pool for a display of underwater robotics. McGill Robotics will be participating for it’s third time this year, building on the experience of past competitions. For each of the two previous years competing at RoboSub, we have been awarded for our business, marketing, and outreach efforts, including the award for Best Marketing Integration in 2015.

The Mission

An obstacle course consisting of several tasks is set up in a section of the pool 16 ft deep. The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) must complete as many challenges as possible in any order to gain points. Some of the tasks include navigating around obstacles, firing torpedoes, and locating an acoustic beacon. What make this competition special is that the AUV must perform completely autonomously, without any input from the operators.

The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

The current design resembles a workhorse class Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) rather than the more common streamlined AUVs. This is necessary for it to be able to complete the wide variety of tasks. We use eight underwater thrusters to provide six degrees of freedom and a CO2 pneumatic system for torpedoes and grabbers. The main hull contains all of our important electronics including a computer with i7 processor, power management system and centralized I/O board. The two lithium polymer batteries keep the robot powered, but what really makes it autonomous is the software design. We implement computer vision with cameras and a sonar for object detection. We combine this information with other sensors for accurate state estimation.

Mars Rover

The Rover

The Competition

Following last year’s success, McGill Robotics plans on participating in two Mars Rover competitions: the University Rover Challenge, hosted by the Mars Society, and the European Rover Challenge, hosted by the European Space Foundation and Planet PR Agency. These competitions promote the design of Mars rovers to accomplish specific tasks. Next May and September, the URC and ERC will each bring numerous teams in unique, simulated environments, where the participants will have the chance to share knowledge and, of course, compete on the large competition sites.

The Mission

From a hidden control center, every team will be required to operate their rover in a Mars-like desert environment through various runs to accomplish complex tasks. These tasks involve traversing rough terrains, carrying payload to remote locations, servicing a complex control panel, and analyzing collected soil samples. During every run, the teams will be expected to wirelessly operate their rovers on more than one kilometer and continuously rely on sensor feedback provided by the onboard IMUs, GPS, cameras, and scientific instruments.

The Rover

The rover is tele-operated and is able to accomplish various tasks semi-autonomously. It features two hot-swappable manipulators and five cameras, and it has various electrical housings mounted on an aluminum and composites frame. The entire rover weighs approximately 45 kg and is slightly smaller than NASA’s Mars Exploration Opportunity Rover. An efficient user interface was created, as we believe that success of such challenges relies on good human-rover interaction. The overall design focuses on systems modularity to allow fast repairs and quick configuration changes for every run.


The Competition

The annual Student Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS) Competition, hosted by the AUVSI Seafarer Chapter, takes place at the US Navy’s Webster Field in Maryland. 40 teams from around the world design and build autonomous aircraft to compete in the various tasks inspired by real unmanned aerial vehicle challenges. The 2016 competition will be the first time McGill Robotics will compete in an aerial challenge.

The Mission

The primary objectives of the competition are autonomous waypoint navigation and ground search patterns. Once these two baseline objectives are complete, the aircraft may attempt any of the secondary objectives. These include connecting to a remote computer with an directional antenna, communicating with a simulated control tower, in-flight mission re-tasking, avoiding virtual obstacles, and accurately dropping a water bottle.

The Drone

Aircraft development will take place in two stages, using two separate fixed-wing platforms. A smaller testing aircraft will be built so that preliminary sensor data can obtained and early experimental code can be tested. The second stage will consist of a larger aircraft where we start testing the system as a whole. The aircraft is estimated to have a sensor payload of 4 kg and a flight time 40 minutes. The goal for competition is to operate the plane completely autonomously, from controls to computer vision systems. As with any aircraft, safety is an ever- present concern. Students will learn to incorporate reliable and redundant systems in an effort to maintain consistent control and safe operations.


McGill Robotics is committed to promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the Montreal Community. We visit local schools and teach children about some of the basic concepts that engineers work with every day. This encourages them to learn more about science and engineering and is also a lot of fun!


As part of our outreach program, McGill Robotics also takes part in competitions like the CRC Robotics competition, where members head out to talk to attendees about the innovative world of robotics.

While the workshops and presentations are supposed to educate the children, we end up learning a lot from the creative perspectives of these young students.


McGill Robotics also works with other McGill student organizations like POWE (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering) to help contribute to gender diversity in the STEM Fields.

Next: Our History

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