Saturday, June 12, 2004

2004 ROV Championship

We departed from Carl Hayden at 4 am Thursday. We were to have a team of 6, but Mike our driver and another student were not able to go. It takes quite a bit of practice to drive the ROV, but Oscar, the captain, had a half hour of practice and was willing to do his best. Oscar would just have to keep track of the strategy of the game and drive.

Christian was the vertical driver. Since a lot of the tasks had to do with picking up objects or inserting objects into tubes, the vertical controls were very critical.

Lorenzo was the “switch man”. He was in charge of opening and closing the gripper, turning on the pump and switching the cameras on board the ROV.

Luis was the teather man. He had to manage the ROV umbilical cord. Too tight or too lose and the cord connecting the ROV to the surface would be cut and the ROV would be dead. He also had to retrieve objects that the ROV brought to the side of the pool and was in charge of putting the ROV into and out of the pool.

We arrived at the seaside campus of UCSB in the afternoon, checked into our dorm rooms and unloaded the van and Fredi’s pickup truck. There was a welcome meeting and we met a few people that we knew and met a lot of new people – about 250 in all. That evening, we downloaded our new program, but we had some “voodoo” control problems. Sometimes the thrusters would not go into reverse, or some control that was working would unexpectedly do crazy things. We finally got it working and went to sleep.

Breakfast at 7:30 and then we took all our equipment to the pool for practice. We had more control problems and the Pelican case that contained our controls has a small leak that was getting worse. We decided that since our ROV seemed to be on the edge of failing, that we would not practice any more and hope that it would still have 30 minutes of operation left in it for Saturday’s underwater competition. We decided to order a new seal for our “watertight” case via overnight delivery.

Friday afternoon, we were scheduled for our technical presentation. The kids had gone over the technical details on the trip to UCSB, but now that the hour was approaching, they were nervous and insecure. So they stayed in the pit area and explained
EVERYTHING to anyone who visited our pit. It was great practice and they were able to answer everyone’s questions. They pointed out our strengths: small diameter tether, on-board battery, digital controllers, safety kill switch and our other innovations. When it was time for the half hour interview with the judges, the four team members went in the room. The teachers stayed out. We felt there was nothing that we could do to help and if we were there, it might add to the tension. Besides, we felt maybe the judges would feel it was a show of our confidence in the students, which it was.

Thirty-five minutes they emerged smiling. The kids said the judges stopped them after 20 minutes so they could ask questions. The kids felt the questions were easy and that the judges would give them a good score. The students felt nervous the first minute or so, but as they took turns explaining the various systems, everyone keep smiling and it was a pleasant and exciting experience.

Friday evening, we started trouble shooting our problems. If the case was going to leak, we wanted to absorb the water in the case, so we went and bought some tampons to put in the bottom of the case. Imagine a teenage boy in the feminine products isle choosing the most absorbent brand of tampons. Engineering is a stressful occupation!

The intermittent “voodoo” problems were traced to a faulty 25 wire cable. The kids were up until 2:30 in the morning soldering 50 tiny wires; any one that was open, shorted, or wired on the wrong pin, would possibly cause a failed mission.

A few words about the scoring. The competion is a composite of several scores: the underwater missions, the technical report document, the technical presentation, and a poster score. The only scores we would see would be the underwater missions scores. The rest would be given on Sunday when the winners were announced.

Saturday morning ROVs were going through their missions. Ours was scheduled for the afternoon. We had one short practice to see if the new gasket would leak. It did a little. We pulled it out and waited and watched the other schools going through their missions.

In our “explorer class” there were 10 other teams. Many teams had catastrophic failures: inoperable motors or burnt out electronics. Many of the ‘bots were more sophisticated than ours, especially the ones from MIT, Cape Fear, Long Beach. Monterey college actually had two ROVS and one surface craft that had cameras looking down upon the scene – most impressive.

MIT scored 48 points, Cape Fear 40 and three others had 5 to 20 points. We were sixth and it was our turn to “fly”

The team had a 5 minute limit to set up. All controls were set up in the tent. The umbilical cord was laid out, power turned on, measuring devices set and we were ready to go.

The kids saw the scanner that was to be retrieved, but it was difficult to grasp. It laid on a tarp and near an obstacle. As Oscar and Christian would slink towards it grab it, the wash from the propellers would flutter the tarp which would wiggle the target until it fell in a position where our claw could not grab the ring.

Next they want to do the length measurement. They successful clipped the tape measure to on end and drove back to the other end. Our black and white cameras that worked so well in the indoor practice pool, were overloaded in the bright sunlight, even in 11 feet of water.

The next task attempted was to pump 500 ml or more from the “toxic can”. The drivers had to insert a ¼ inch pipe on our ROV into a ½ inch pipe, turn on our pump for 15 seconds or so. THEY did it! They brought the sample up to the surface in a “toxic water balloon.” We received 5 extra points for exceeding the 500 ml, but lost 3 points because we had sucked in some pool water thus diluting our sample.
The reaming time was spent searching in the hidden reef for objects. We found all but one. We finally tangled our tether on the structures and finally tangled the tether in our propeller. Luis pulled our ROV and even though there were a couple of minutes left the kids called the mission over because they saw one of the controller case latches had unhooked and there might be a disastrous amount of water in the case. Our final score: 32 points. After seven team missions, we were in third place. Not bad for a high school from the desert. We felt we could have done better, but we could have done a lot worse also. We were happy.

Saturday the judges evaluated all the posters, but no one was told the results. All we knew were the underwater scores.

Sunday morning two weak teams earned a few points. When Monterey launched their two ROVs and it radio controlled surface boat, we watched intently. It seemed that they were taking longer than they should. They were having trouble with their cameras appearently. At the end of the 30 minute period, they had earned 30 points. Carl Hayden was third in the underwater missions, second only to MIT and Cape Fear Community College. We felt very proud. The other two high schools were in last place.

Since we had nothing to do, we went into Santa Barbara to the beach and pier and relaxed. Previously we had walked around campus and down to the sore near campus. There were no classes in session so the only people we really saw on campus were fellow roboteers. We met a lot of people and learned a lot from the people and studying their ROVs.

Time was approaching for the awards banquet and we arrived a little early because we felt we might have earned 3rd place, but surely we would win one of the lesser awards.

After the meal, the awards began. We were presented the “Judges Award”. We marched up to the stage, but I was afraid that this might be our only award. Kind of like, “Those Hayden kids came so close, let’s give them the Judge’s Award.”

A few awards later, when the award for the elegant design was announced, Carl Hayden was called up for our second award. There were some magnificent machines and we were surprised to win the design award. Well, we felt we would be the most awarded high school, at least!

Then the major awards began. When we were announced as the winners of the technical documentation award, we were shocked. That meant our document scores exceeded MITs! We were confident that we whould get the third place over all award!

The third place award was announced: “Cape Fear Community High School!” Wow! Did that mean we got second or were we fourth or so? Our table was very tense. I don’t think any of us really expected second. Amazing.

“Second place is awarded to (longest pause in the history of the world) Massachusetts Institute of Technology”. Oh my God!! Could we be first. Maybe it Montery. But they surely had less points in the underwater competition and the technical document. Did our kids do real bad in the presentation? We were absolutely on the edge of our seats.

“First place for the 2004 MATE ROV championship goes to ….. Carl Hayden High School” OH MY GOD!!!!! We walked up to the stage absolutely in shock! It’s an emotional moment that none of us will ever forget.

We stayed a while to take pictures and thank our hosts and new friends. There was no way we were going to go to sleep, but we didn’t want to mix with the other teams (especially MIT) and feign humble talk while we are screaming in our heads, “We beat MIT!). So we walked down to the deserted beach and hiked a mile or so while what just happened sunk in. The rookie inner city public high school team from the desert kicked ass! The most prestigious engineering university with a team of a dozen or so brilliant minds had been beat by a team of four high school kids! Colleges that have marine engineering programs were out-designed by the Falcons.

WOW, what do we do next?

Student members Luis Aranda, Oscar Vasquez, Cristian Arcega, and Lorenzo Santillan.
Teachers: Sam Alexander, Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi

Thank you sponsors:

Seabotix, Distagage, Omega Engineering, Scuba Sciences, MotorGuide, Borris Innocenti, Lights Camera Action, Walt Ahland, MATE, Southwest Fastener, Wells Fargo, Honeywell, Microchip, Phelps Dodge, Intel and the many individual sponsors of the Falcon Robotics Team!

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