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