Robotic Submarine Running Debian Wins International Competition

October 8th, 2009

This August, a team of 35 undergraduate students from Cornell University sank the competition at the 12th annual Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition, sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Office of Naval Research. The competition takes place in a large acoustic testing pool operated by the US Navy SPAWAR Systems Center. It calls for entries to pass through a gate, follow a path, ram a submerged buoy, fire through a square target with small torpedoes, drop markers into bins containing simulated targets, recover a PVC target and surface through an octagon shape, all without human intervention. The Cornell Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team (CUAUV) took first place by completing the entire course at the competition, a feat not seen since MIT won in 2002. This was Cornell's first victory since 2003.

Cornell's vehicle, named Nova, runs a custom software stack on top of a single board computer running Linux and relies heavily on Debian. Debian works amazingly well for us, said Benjamin Seidenberg, CUAUV's new software team leader. Not only do we use it on the vehicle, we also run it on the computers in our lab and our servers, and use it to develop our custom electronics. Seidenberg, who also handles IT issues for the team, said that they consolidated on Debian three years ago. When I joined the team, we had computers running Windows XP, Windows Server, Debian, Ubuntu, FreeBSD and Gentoo. Now we've settled on Debian for the sub and the servers; our lab workstations dual boot Debian and Windows. It's a lot easier to manage, and it's great to be able to develop in the same environment that the submarine runs.

The team also uses other open source software on their vehicle such as OpenCV for image processing and libdc1394 for video capture. According to Arseney Romanenko, another member of the software team, these libraries are essential for doing vision processing in an embedded environment; they are fast and lightweight which translates into significant power savings.

About Debian

The Debian Project was founded in 1993 by Ian Murdock to be a truly free, community project. Since then the project has grown to be one of the largest and most influential open source projects. Over three thousand volunteers from all over the world work together to create and maintain the software included in Debian. Translated into over 30 languages, and supporting a huge range of computer types, Debian calls itself the universal operating system.


The Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team is a group of about 35 undergraduate students at Cornell University who design and build autonomous underwater vehicles for research purposes and to compete in the AUVSI Underwater Vehicle competition. More information, including information on sponsoring the team, is available at their website,

Contact Information

For further information, please visit the Debian web pages at or send mail to <>.

For further information about CUAUV, please visit the CUAUV web page at or send mail to <>.