About Us

Autonomous maritime technology is the way of the future and it is our mission to be at the forefront of research and development into uncrewed surface and undersea vehicles. We hope our work will help to create a safer and more efficient way to conduct marine research, surveillance, and search and rescue missions.

We aim to develop a maritime platform for government, industry, and university researchers to further the development of autonomous vehicles here in South Australia.


Meet the Team

Team Name: Team Australis2

Team Contact: FlindersRoboticsTeam@gmail.com

Team List

Academic Staff

  • Prof. Karl Sammut – Project Supervisor – karl.sammut@flinders.edu.au
  • Assoc. Prof. Russell Brinkworth – Academic Supervisor – russell.brinkworth@flinders.edu.au
  • Dr Phillip Skelton – Academic Support – phillip.skelton@flinders.edu.au

Student Team Leaders

  • Anthony Eldridge – Student Team Leader – anthony.eldridge@flinders.edu.au
  • Phola Ramos – Management Team Leader – phola.ramos@flinders.edu.au
  • Abigal Wicks  Management Team Deputy Leader – abigail.wicks@flinders.edu.au
  • Ryan Burdett – Software Team Leader – ryan.burdett@flinders.edu.au
  • Jack Lannan – Software Team Deputy Leader – lann0007@flinders.edu.au
  • Christelle Richardson – Electronics/Electrical Team Leader – christelle.richardson@flinders.edu.au
  • Daniel Philbey – Electronics/Electrical Technical Leader – daniel.philbey@flinders.edu.au
  • Jasmine Cooks – Mechanical Team Leader – jasmine.cooks@flinders.edu.au
  • Eric Deng – Mechanical Team Deputy Leader – deng0160@flinders.edu.au

Team Members

  • Dr Andrew Lammas – Academic Team Member – andrew.lammas@flinders.edu.au
  • Dr Jonathan Wheare – Academic Team Member – jonathan.wheare@flinders.edu.au
  • Riley Spencer – Electronics/Electrical Team – spen0177@flinders.edu.au
  • Dilip Krishnan – Electronics/Electrical Team – dilip.krishnan@flinders.edu.au
  • Angello Deionno – Mechanical Team – deio0005@flinders.edu.au
  • Brianna Mciver – Mechanical Team – brianna.mciver@flinders.edu.au
  • Scott Brownridge – Mechanical Team – brow1097@flinders.edu.au
  • William Tran – Software Team – william.tran@flinders.edu.au
  • Zechariah Wicks – Software Team – zechariah.wicks@flinders.edu.au
  • Heath Eickhoff – Software Team – eick0004@flinders.edu.au
  • Hayden Graham – Software Team – grah0227@flinders.edu.au
  • Sebastian Hoey – Software Team – hoey0017@flinders.edu.au


TopCat is an electrically powered autonomous surface vessel that carries a range of advanced sensing equipment. The vessel uses the suspension system on the WAM-V platform to provide a stable base for the sensor suite and power systems.
Five metres long with a top speed of 11 knots (20 km/h), a cruising speed of around 4 knots (8 km/h) and a cruise endurance close to 12 hours, TopCat is well suited to monitoring tasks in hostile conditions or protected areas. The vessel is currently capable of mapping and monitoring tasks using the onboard Lidar and Radar systems. Additional sensors such as sonars can be attached to the underwater deployer to perform specific tasks such as sea bed mapping or environmental surveying.

User Interface

A key part of developing unmanned vehicles is ensuring an easy to use and reliable user interface. Developing a system which both provides sufficient information for systems analysis while allowing non technical researchers to easily view data has been our main focus.

Our user interface consists of a base control station which relays system information and safety data to the mission supervisor, as well as a web based data interface which allows users to access and visualise only the data relevant to them.


The software which runs TopCat is based on the Robot Operating System (ROS). ROS is a collection of open source software libraries and tools which enable rapid development of robot software infrastructure. On top of this backbone we have developed multiple algorithms including object recognition and classification, mission planning, navigation and control systems. These systems allow TopCat to autonomously plan and execute given tasks such as mapping a selected area.

Hardware and Sensors

TopCat’s hardware is a combination of off the shelf parts and custom built systems. The focus for the overall hardware design was stability, reliability and modularity to allow safe, easy operation and upgrades. The vessel is a stable inflatable catamaran (WAM-V ’16) platform powered by two independently steered Torqeedo Cruise 2R electric motors and 2 x 3.88 kWh Li-Ion batteries. This hardware setup provides a reliable and easy to use platform to develop and test our software algorithms. TopCat carries a broad selection of on board sensors for navigation, control, obstacle avoidance, and mapping above and below the water. Additionally, mission specific sensors can be easily integrated as required.

Where we started

In 2012 the Maritime RobotX Challenge was launched by the US Office of Naval Research. A joint Flinders University and Centre for Defence Engineering Research and Training (CDERT) was successful in applying to be part of the inaugural event and herein was born Topcat.

Hardware Design

Developing Topcat has been a very iterative process. The initial vessel design focussed on solving the 2014 RobotX challenge tasks including navigation, obstacle avoidance and docking. This was a great base but new and ongoing research tasks and challenges have necessitated continual upgrades for Topcat.

Development Timeline

Early 2014

Initial Vessel Development

In early 2014 Australian Maritime College students developed and tested engine buoyancy systems and installed Torqeedo electric outboards. The vessel was then brought to Flinders University where students designed and built sensor mounting structures for LiDAR, Radar, GPS and camera systems. At the same time honours students were developing software systems to solve the challenges for RobotX 2014.

October 2014

Inaugural Maritime RobotX – Singapore

Topcat made it to the first Maritime RobotX challenge in October 2014. It was a rush to develop everything on time and not everything worked as planned but the experience was great. The team got to meet people from around the world who shared a passion for robotics. We just missed out on the finals but were awarded a special mention for our use of the boat as a research platform.

April 2015

Topcat Demonstration

Shortly after SAAB Australia announced their Bonefish USV we were asked to demonstrate Topcat on the Port River for a news article. This was the first time Topcat operated in public access waters with shipping traffic. Although weather on the test day was horrible it was a successful demonstration of the vessels ability to operate in a commercial area.

November 2015

Driverless Cars Conference

Yes we know, Topcat is a boat at a car conference! Nevertheless, we were asked to demonstrate the vessel on the Torrens River for the International Driverless Cars Conference. This was a great opportunity for us to meet industry leaders interested in autonomous technology and also great public exposure as the demonstration was in the middle of the city. It was also the first time Topcat operated in amongst rowers and paddlers.

February-July 2016

System Upgrades

Throughout the first half of 2016 Topcat went through a major upgrade phase. New sensors, a new computer and electronic systems were added. The overall superstructure was redesigned, the batteries mounted in an underslung cradle and a steering system added. These upgrades were designed to prepare the vessel for ocean trials and the 2016 Maritime RobotX Challenge.

October-December 2016

Maritime RobotX 2 – Hawaii

Topcat has entered the 2016 Maritime RobotX Challenge in Hawaii. Preparations are in full swing, the hardware systems have been tested and software is well on its way. In just a few days we will be packing everything up and shipping it all! We are excited to participate again and look forward to the challenges this year’s competition will bring!

Progress 2018

General Improvements

Image courtesy of Christelle Richardson

Some general improvments were made to the boat. This included reworking the electronics box to make it easier to use and service. Other improvments incuded fixing the light bar and other quality of life fixes.

Progress 2019

General Testing and Improvements

Image courtesy of Michael Campbell

Flinders University gained access to a private testing site for Autonomous Surface Vessels in the Port River.  At this site, the vessel undertook experiments in perception and vehicle control.

Progress 2021-2022

Beachport Research Trip

Image courtey of Professor Patrick Hesp

A highlight of 2020 was a field trip to Beachport, a small town on the south-west coast of South Australia.  During this trip, the TopCat ASV undertook a survey of beach erosion in the bay near post office rock (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-28/beachport-erosion-robotic-vessel-deployed-climate-change/12821360).
During this survey, the TopCat ASV carried depth sounding equipment within the bay that had formed inshore of a reef.


We gratefully appreciate all of our sponsors for their time and commitment to the project. A special thank you to the following sponsors for their contribution to the project.

Platinum Sponsors


“Building a future we can all trust” – Thales is an international innovation company building the world’s defence and security, aerospace, and transportation capabilities.

To find out more please visit: https://www.thalesgroup.com/en

Flinders University

“Find your Fearless” – Flinders University is an educational establishment aiming to inspire high achievement, passion and drive within their students.

To find out more please visit: https://www.flinders.edu.au/


Silver Sponsors



“The Power of REDARC” – “REDARC has over 40 years’ experience in the research, design, development and manufacture of a range of off-grid power and towing safety solutions.”

To find out more please visit: https://www.redarc.com.au


Bronze Sponsors


FUSE – Flinders University Society of Engineers

FUSE is a student lead academic society passionate about supporting the engineering cohort to receive a well rounded and supported education. FUSE is proud to help shape a student’s university experience; providing opportunities to engage in further special interest projects, career progression, personal development, academic support, and various social events.

To find out more please visit: FUSE – Facebook

SAGE Group

“Smarter Future. Better World.” – SAGE Group is a specialist industrial services provider and working alongside some of Australia’s most iconic brands, we combine the best thinking with world-leading technology to accelerate your digital journey.

To find out more please visit: https://www.gotosage.com/