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Underwater Robotics Team Has Strong First-Time Showing at International Competition

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Underwater robotics team at the SRC pool.

Strong Showing: Months of preparation paid off for the underwater robotics team's first time at a international competition in Canada.

Rose-Hulman's uUnderwater    Robotics Team earned top scores at a prestigious international competition this summer in northeast Canada.

The team finished eighth in the underwater portion of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) international competition, which included 31 high school and university teams from around the world. Overall, it placed seventh when factors such as technical presentation, documentation, and team poster were added to the score.

That finish placed Rose-Hulman ahead of robots from Purdue University, The Ohio State University, and Arizona State University, to name just a few of the competitors.

This was the first time the Rose-Hulman team qualified for the international championship, which took place June 25-27 in St. John's, a city on Canada's northeast coast.

"It basically took us three years to get there," says Joe Schornak, a senior mechanical engineering major and project manager for the team.

During the competition, robots were required to maneuver through a small hole in a thick wall of ice to take ocean-life samples on the other side. In other challenges, the team conducted pipeline repairs, checked underwater wellhead operations, and inspected electrical grounding on the legs of an oil production platform. During one event, the team's remotely-operated robot had to contend with strong underwater currents.

Rose-Hulman's propeller-driven robot, named Aegir after a mythical Norse god, 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 project was about $19,000, paid for mostly with money provided by Rockwell-Collins, an aviation and information technology company.

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

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

Photos from the international competition are available on the Rose-Hulman Robotics Team's Facebook page.