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Rose-Hulman Students Taking Underwater Vehicle to World Competition

Monday, June 22, 2015
Underwater robotics team places robot in pool.

Deep Preparation: ROV team members prepare for the intense challenges that await them in Canada.

Rose-Hulman's underwater Robotics Team has successfully earned a spot at a prestigious international competition this summer in northeast Canada.

In April, the 15-member squad advanced through a regional contest in Chicago to earn a spot at the competition, which will take place June 25-27 in St. John's, a city on Canada's northeast coast.

This is the first time the Rose-Hulman team has cleared the regional hurdle, says project manager Joe Schornak, a junior mechanical engineering major from Phoenix, Arizona.

The Rose-Hulman team will now take its remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) to the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) international competition. The event will feature college and high school teams from around the world.

"It basically took us three years to get there," Schornak says. The ROV team started building its latest underwater vehicle last September, earlier than usual, so that the final months of preparation could be used for fine tuning, he says.

The propeller-driven ROV contains two cameras, one that can rotate on its own, another locked in a fixed position on the front of the vehicle. The ROV is 20 inches wide and 30 inches long and is about 1 foot in height. It is guided by pilots on the surface via a single Ethernet cable. The total cost of the vehicle was about $19,000, paid for mostly with money provided by Rockwell-Collins, an aviation and information technology company.

The international competition is a little intimidating, Schornak says. The Rose-Hulman team will be required to successfully maneuver its ROV through a small hole in a thick wall of ice to take ocean-life samples on the other side. In other challenges, the team will conduct pipeline repairs, check underwater wellhead operations and inspect electrical grounding on the legs of an oil production platform.

During at least one event, the team's ROV will have to contend with strong underwater currents.

"That's going to be a big challenge," Schornak says.

Creating a sophisticated, yet durable, underwater ROV presents several challenges, Schornak says. One is ensuring sensor data travels from the vehicle to ROV pilots on the surface. Another difficulty is ensuring the ROV's electronics stay dry.

"Electronics really don't like water," Schornak says. "And everything has to work perfectly."

The team named its ROV "Aegir" after a mythological Norse giant who lived under the ocean floor and was known to host big parties for the other Norse gods.

So far, Aegir has performed well in tests in the pool at the Rose-Hulman Student Recreation Center. Videos of Aegir operating underwater are available on the Robotics Team's Facebook page.