Sunday, June 19, 2005

Houston Day 4 National ROV competition Results

Well, we placed third. A combination team of high school and college students from Newfoundland won first place. They really did do a good job in the competition and they deserved to win.

Monterey Peninsula College came in second place. Although we were higher in the performace score, they wrote a better technical report.

The kids are in a good mood and we feel we did well considering that we did not do as well as we were capable of doing.

A year ago, on the drive home, Lorenzo would burst out with "We beat MIT!" After this year’s contest I looked over at Lorenzo and I said, “Well, we can still say ‘We beat MIT!’" Lorenzo thought for a second and replied, “Yeah, but there’s one college in California and all Canada shouting, “We beat Carl Hayden! Dr. C, we were the team to beat. That’s really something.”

Thanks for all you support. We will now go on vacation for a while. School and the engineering cycle will start again at the beginning of August.



Houston Day 4 National ROV competition

All the underwater competitions are finished and we are currently in 2nd place.

The first place team is a collection of high school and university students from Newfoundland, Canada. Their performance score is 65, ours is 52.

Monterey Bay College, CA is in third place with a score (we think) 40 points.

Here is how the rest of the scoring will go:

Each team sent in their technical report three weeks ago – a possible 25 points
Each team had to make a technical presentation – a possible 80 points.
Each team had to produce a poster display – a possible 15 points.

The underwater performance was worth up to 120 points. So our 52 points did not look too good yesterday, especially since we felt we very easily could have earned 100 points. We expected some one[-67 to do well!

The first, second and third overall teams are determined by the total points in all four categories. We will find out tonight at the awards ceremony who won.

A few observations:

A few people have congratulated us on the Wired article and the Newsline program, but most people, especially us, are not making a fuss about it. The kids were worried about it getting in the way.

I’m amazed how well the kids can work with only 4-6 hours of sleep a night. I bet when we get home, they will sleep for 24 hours straight.

MIT used fiber optics with an onboard battery like we do, but theirs was too fragile and was easily tangled. They became another ROV DNF (Did Not Finish)

In our FIRST robot competitions and the MATE competitions, we try to build robust, reliable machines. We don’t always reach that goal, but once again I’m surprised how often it pays off for us.

Houston is humid

A few minutes past midnight, all the kids came in our room to wish us a happy Father’s Day.

It’s time for a nap and then some serious pacing.

Fredi has posted new pictures at:

I know he keeps changing sites, but we either keep exceeding size or traffic limits on the other sites.


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Houston Day 3 National ROV competition

Today was the first day of the ROV competition. The technical papers have been scored, the poster displays have been scored and the oral technical presentations have been scored. We have no idea what those scores are. We find out at tomorrow’s award ceremony.

The underwater robots, however, perform in view of everyone and we learn these scores as teams compete.

Two categories,: Ranger which is mostly high school teams that have survived regional competitions (and one middle school) and the Explorer class of mostly universities, colleges and several high schools. We are once again in the Explorer class. There are 16 teams in our class.

We were the forth team to perform today. About an hour before our queuing time, we discovered a leak. It’s pretty stressful to work on repairing what MIGHT be leaking but not being able to test the repair. Will it hold? Was that really the problem? About a half hour before launch time, we had a short team meeting and the six team members took the ROV to the NASA pool. We were not allowed to accompany them, but we could watch the mission on a NASA closed circuit TV.

The ROV descended and tried to place a probe in a container 40’ under the water. It slipped just as it was almost in its receptacle and the ROV lost it. The kids spent a minute trying to retrieve it, but our prop wash would move it out of reach.

They wisely went to the next task: opening a drawer and retrieving three test probes. They placed them in a basket that the ROV brought down with it. Then it was off to a hose where they had to measure the temperature of the water coming out of a pipe. They were successful, but our temp sensor went bad and reported it as 40 degrees higher than it should have been No points for that one.
Then they found the tank with a red liquid in it. They successfully retrieved 600 ml of the liquid. At this time, they stated to bring the ROV up to the surface, but it just did not have enough power to go up. Was it taking on water? They pulled it up with the tether (5 point deduction for pulling on the tether), brought the liquid sample to the judges and sent the ROV back down to retrieve the basket with the probes (worth 5 points each). They hooked the basket but the ROV would hardly rise. As they throttled to full power, the 25 amp circuit breaker on the ROV tripped. It resets itself in about 5 seconds, but in that time the ROV descended and dumped the basket and it contents upon the pool floor.

Although they still had some time left and they did try to retrieve the items, the gripper claw just was not designed to pick items off the floor. They brought the ROV back up and our round was over. Our score was 52 points. We easily could have had another 45 points. A score that exceeded 100 had been within our reach.

We met the kids as they exited the elevator and they were pretty bummed out. We told them that they did everything that they possibly could and we were proud of them and it was a good score. Annalisa is the leader of the group and I think she and Lorenzo felt the worst. It’s hard to cheer someone up when they feel like they just witnessed their dream evaporate. She sat for a few minutes and then we started our debriefing routines and discussing why things were going bad (negative buoyancy, small water leak, power surge that tripped the breaker)

It was a quit lunch, but they started to feel a little better after the initial disappointment subsided. About this time, our school district superintendant, Raj Chopra, arrived and pumped the kids up. They were feeling much better.

After the lunch break, we were surprised to see that the other three teams that competed had catastrophic failures and received hardly any points at all. Oh well, at least we won’t be last.

As the afternoon went on, we watched one ROV after another commit hari kari. The 40 foot depth is taking quit a toll. As the tenth team finished, we are astounded to see that Carl Hayden is currently in first place in the ROV performance.

Tomorrow the six remaining teams compete, including MIT, powerhouse ROV college Monterey Peninsula and University of California Davis. At any rate, it looks like first place is up for grabs, but currently we have it. Maybe the volume of Good Luck wishes that you have all been sending us has had an effect.

This evening, our team went to Joe’s Crab Shack in Galveston on the Gulf and we ate seafood overlooking the bay. “Ew! these shrimps still have legs on them.”
A long walk around the shore and back we went to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we watch the last of the Explorer ROVs go through their missions and we go to the awards ceremony in the evening. It’s going to be interesting. (I know this sounds like a schmaltzy cliff hanger, but it all true!)

Fredi has begun posting our pictures at
Houston Day 1
Houston Day 2
Houston Day 3


Friday, June 17, 2005

Houston Day 2 National ROV competition

What a day…

We arrived at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at the Johnson Space center. That’s where the astronauts train in a floating environment. It’s a really big pool, 50 feet deep and space station modules and shuttle parts for the men and women to practice mission tasks on before they have to do it in the real weightless space.

A little fact we learned last night – You have to look down towards Earth when orbiting to see meteors. Since they need the atmosphere to burn and the shuttle (and space station) are above the atmosphere… and they look little. When we look up to see them, they are 30 miles above us, but to the space crew, the meteor is 100+ miles below them.

Our ROV, “Smokey” survived the shipment from Phoenix and we had him set up in a hour. We has some soldering to finish, a job that we started when he had to be shipped. Right now, everything works 100%, but we did not get any pool time today to test him.

The big event for us was the technical presentation. Although teachers are allowed in the room to listen, Fredi, Sam, Ruth and I do not. There is nothing we can do to help and we think it just adds to the kids’ stress if we are there – and it shows that we really have confidence in them – which we do. Their 30 minute presentation stretched to 55. One person came out of the room and said, “You have every reason to be proud of those kids. I am not a judge, but they are good.” Then the kids came out all smiles and feeling good about their performance.

Cindy (our recovering cheerleader) is not the most technical member, but she is willing to do anthing asked of her 100%. She was in charge of explaining how the two video pictures and all the data was transmittied through the hair thin 200’ long fiber optic cable. When one judge asked her what wavelengths were used, Cristian started to answer but the judge said he wanted to hear Cindy’s answer. She said it was basicly two different colors of light, one for the uplink data while at the same time, the other color carried the downlink data and it all goes serially, kind of like Morse code signals. Not the graduate engineer answer, but it was an elegant and correct answer. The kids felt REAL good about their test.

The hour-long Dayna Steele show was live from the NBL. She was kind enough to interview me about how cool the whole event was. She chatted with Oscar about college and the difficulties that undocumented high school graduates have. Marcos Garcia-Acosta, our mentor and friend from Intel spoke about the Dream Act and what can be done to move it on. (Write your congressman). Dayna has been so great with the kids. She truly loves them. She bugged Luis about going to college. He now has another mother pushing him.

Karen Suhm, our engineer mentor from Phoenix, while talking to the astronauts last night, learned a bunch of them had been rejected for the progam many times before being accepted. She had applied a few years ago. Anyway, she had a meeting today with Duane L. Ross who selects astronaut candidates and he pulled out her record and gave her some pointers. She is reapplying. That’s what is so neat about this whole experience. People are not telling our kids what to do, but doing very positive, ambitious, creative activities in front of them. We are all feeding off each other’s successes. What a way to learn.

In a few minutes we are off to the Johnson Space Center for a reception. We get to see all the cool stuff there and get even more excited about the fantastic technological achievements and meet many of the people who made it happen. I can see Karen training here in a year or two, and Cristian and Cindy in 10 more. And… well, some one has to be the first to step on Mars. I would not shock me that she is here this weekend.

Tomorrow at 11:00 is our underwater ROV test. Thirty minutes to complete all (or as many as we can do) tasks. Potentially we can do them all, if everything works like we hope it will. But then again, we have never had the ROV deeper than 12’ and there are quit a few points of stress on the machine. The kids are ready. Hopefully, we will be able to sleep some tonight.

Fredi is posting pictures at
So many people go to it that it shuts down at times. Be patient.

I’ll email an update tomorrow.



Thursday, June 16, 2005

Houston Day 1 National ROV competition

Early this morning the Carl Hayden High School Robotics team left Phoenix for the 2005 MATE ROV (Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle) competition in Houston, Texas. This year it is being held at the water pool in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Houston Space Center.

We have made many new friends because of the April Wired article about last year’s contest. One of the people we met via email, is Dayna Steele, a radio personality here in Texas. She and her husband, Charlie the Wonder Husband, invited all the team to her house for dinner and to meet a few of her friends: Jose Hernandez, and many of his fellow astronauts. We chatted with astronaut Linda Godwin and others over pizza at the pool overlooking Clear Lake. Tales of looking DOWN to see meteorites, 16 sunrises and sunsets per day, how to abort a liftoff, and when we might send a person to the moon and Mars were buzzing thought the party.

How many movies have the scene where the astronauts and their families are socializing and talking about their training and the missions they will be on. WE WERE THERE!! Absolutely amazing!

Karen Suhm, our physicist friend and her husband Jerry are here with us. They are so positive to be around. Karen is going to reapply for the astronaut program.

Our friend and mentor from Intel, Marcos Garcia-Acosta, is here with us also. He had a great time discussing the Dream Act with Dayna’s husband, Charlie, who is a teat pilot and a flight trainer for the new astronauts.

Right now it is 9 pm and teachers Fredi Lajvardi, Sam Alexander and Ruth Reynoso are critiquing the kids technical presentation. The team has to present it for real tomorrow at 3:15 in the afternoon.

Tomorrow morning is also the day we set up our ROV and practice. Also The Dayna Steele show will be live from the pool.

Our competition written documents were turned in three weeks ago. Saturday morning the kids have to operate their ROV and perform the tasks in 40 foot deep water.

This year the six students are Cindy Castenada, Annalisa Regalado, Pablo Santillan, Luis Gueterrez, and retuning members Cristian Arsega and Lorenzo Santillan. Oscar Vasquez and Luis Aranda are here, but only as spectators.

Oscar will be gong to ASU this fall with a full scholarship. Luis will be going to the local community college in the fall. Cristian will have a full scholarship to ASU when he graduates next year and Lorenzo will be taken care of either at the community college or ASU. It’s been a fantastic year for the four veterans and it’s been a real joy watching them blossom.

Anyway, our ROV, “Smokey”, is sitting in a crate in the NASA warehouse waiting for us to pick him up after the opening ceremonies.

Fredi has posted pictures on our web site at

I’ll try to post an update tomorrow evening. If tomorrow is anywhere near as exciting as tonight, this may be the best field trip of all time!!