Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Date of Original Version



The United States Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) standards in the maritime industry. It is important for the members of the U. S. Coast Guard to understand how these systems work. Students have gained a much greater understanding of how DPS platforms work and what might be required to maintain them by building one from scratch. Aside from this, the project has served as a great opportunity to work on a one year term project that may resemble engineering or acquisitions projects that might be encountered in the students’ future careers.

The overall goal of the Robust Dynamic Positioning and Data Acquisition System project was to prototype a dynamic positioning system similar to the ones on buoy tenders in the fleet. The primary goal was to maintain a desired heading and position within a certain range. The secondary goals included robust capabilities (the ability to continue functioning despite motor failures) and data acquisition (to analyze system performance post-testing). Students built a vessel from scratch out of a salvage drum and an inner tube for buoyancy. The internal construction consists of three tiers containing batteries at the lowest level, an onboard computer at the second level, and control hardware at the top level (micro controllers, H-bridges, and fuse boxes). Students successfully used a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) device to determine the relative position to two stationary poles. They were able to communicate with the onboard computer via either a wired connection or a remote desktop connection through an ad-hoc wireless network. All programming for this project was done in MATLAB®. Students have completed all project milestones through the application of past courses they have taken in computer control systems, network communication, and digital signal processing at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

The first challenge of this project was to focus on constructing the vessel and installing the control hardware. One of the obstacles for the students was establishing communication between the various pieces of software, hardware, and the power distribution system. The LIDAR sensor determined the vessel’s relative position and heading to two stationary poles. Using the position and heading resolution algorithms, students conducted a set of system identification tests in an indoor tank to determine how the system reacts to various thrusts from the motors. This allowed students to collect “Open-Loop” system data. Using the data acquisition system, students were able to identify the system and calculate coefficients for the controller and implement a “Closed- Loop” control system. Students successfully implemented a proportional integral derivative (PID) controller that satisfies all design requirements including robust functionality. Currently, all milestones for the project have been accomplished and plans for continuation of the project are underway.