Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006 ROV Competiton -- Houston

Thursday Morning, June 22, 2006 -- 35,000 feet above New Mexico

The Carl Hayden Robotics team is on our way to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas for the 5th annual MATE Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition. This is our third year in the university division. In 2004, the kids beat everyone and earned the 1st place trophy. Last year we placed third. Hopefully, the kids will do as well in the competition as they have been doing in practice.

Of the 50 or so students who are in the Robotics Club, we are only taking six with us. The MATE competitions only allow 6 team members to operate, demonstrate and represent the team. We are taking two ROVs, Ipski-Pipski and Otis. On this trip or roster is:
Annalisa – outgoing club president and Ipski’s co-driver. She has just graduated and will be attending Arizona State University (ASU) in the fall- Business & technology major. She has kept us organized and on task for the last two years.

Pablo – is a junior and is Ipski-Pipski’s driver. Pablo is beginning his third year in the club and has become the “guy who gets things done, no mater what”. Summer vacation began three weeks ago, yet Pablo has been at school every day (except Sundays) working on the ROV. He’s very quite but has more frequently shows an outgoing charm when he is in public.

Daniel – a junior and our new president. Daniel is a “hard charger” academically. He is taking college courses while in high school and is certainly college bound. Daniel is Otis’s codriver.

Cristian – of “La Vida Robot” fame is Otis’s driver. Like Annalisa, he has graduated and will be off to ASU in the fall in the Ira Fulton College of Engineering. His self-assured, quite intellect has been a tremendous asset to our team and he has been an inspiration to younger students.

Lorenzo – also of “La Vida Robot” notoriety is also moving on to college. Readers of Wired magazine sent in contributions and all the four kids in that story will be in college. Lorenzo will start out at the local community college. Lorenzo will be manning Otis’s tether. While in the water, the ROV is connected to the surface with a 100 foot collection of umbilical cords. It’s Lorenzo job to let out and bring in the cable as the ROV operates 40 feet below the surface.

Adam – a senior. Adam is new to our team. We were in desperate need of a programmer and Adam has taken two ears of programming at Carl Hayden and he was willing to commit to the hundreds and hundreds of hours it takes to complete one of these projects. During competition, he is Ipski’s tether man.

Fredi and myself are the main teacher/sponsors. We also have my wife and math teacher Debbie as female chaperone. Jim is a fellow Carl Hayden teacher and also Daniel’s dad. Jim will be doing a lot of our videotaping. Out two fantastic mentors will fly in early tomorrow, Karen and Jerry. Karen, a physicist, and her architect husband, Jerry, adopted our team two years ago and have been fantastic working and inspiring the kids. One of the reasons that we can compete successfully with universities is because our kids are exposed to top talent in the engineering community.

Tomorrow morning we will go to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center. It’s a huge in door crystal clear 40-foot deep pool as large as a football field. Underwater they have mockups of spacecraft and space station modules where EVA-suited astronauts practice tasks while “Floating in space”. We will get to test our ROVs in the pool and go through technical inspection and we should be ready for Saturday’s event.

Saturday the kids will do a presentation about our ROV and its mission to a panel of judges. Later in the day, they will put our ROV’s in the water for the half hour mission. We also will put up a poster display that will be judged. All the teams will complete their missions by Sunday noon and the winners are announced Sunday evening.

All in all, we are all excited and anxious to do our best against the top colleges and universities. It just all seems so amazing that a high school in the “hood” is in this level of competition!

Friday Evening, June 23, 2006 – Houston, Texas

This morning we went to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at the Johnson Space Center. Within the large building is a huge crystal clear 40 foot deep pool of water. We will be competing tomorrow amid full size space station modules. It’s such a chilling feeling to be amid all of the high tech props that the astronauts work with.
This year’s mission requires picking up a “probe” (really a 10 inch ling PVC pipe) that has a long rope attached to it. We have to string it through 4 waypoints and end up at a structure on the floor of the pool. We also have to bring a box from the surface down to this structure and insert it into the cabinet on the floor. Then we insert the probe into the side of the box. There is another probe on the floor that we have to pick up and insert in the pool.

We decided a few months ago, to build two ROVs to accomplish the mission. Otis is responsible for bringing the box down and inserting in the cabinet and opening a door on the side.

At the same time, “Ipski-Pipski” is responsible for retrieving the probe, stringing the rope through the 4 way points and inserting the probes in the cabinet. The six operators have been practicing in a 10 foot deep pool in Phoenix. Today we got to practice in the 40 foot NBL pool. We discovered two problems with Otis at the greater depth and pressure. Our big ROV sank too fast, but that was easily fixed by adding more buoyant material to it.
(Videos of our practice at Phoenix:
http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=42960&pagecat=207 )
Otis has three cameras so Daniel and Annalisa can see what they are doing under the surface. One of the camera housings developed a small leak which shorted out the camera. Late this afternoon, we bought a replacement camera at Frys and new PVC parts for the housing at Home Depot. Cristian will be up an extra hour or two tonight fabricating the replacement. All-in-all we feel we are in great shape for tomorrow’s competition. We have a chance of completing all the tasks well under the allotted 30 minute time limit.

Last year we met Dayna Steele and her husband Charlie Justiz. Once again they invited us to their home for pizza and a swim and to introduce us to a few of their relatives and friends, including astronauts!! We all now have autographed pictures of Pamela Melroy (“We call her Pam) who is has been to space twice and will be the commander of an upcoming flight (STS-120). Imagine, Carl Hayden High School students talking technology with astronauts over pizza and soft drinks.

Dayna and Charlie and friends are fantastic people. The whole point of our robotics program is not to build machines; not even to educate students, but rather to change our culture. We want the kids exposed to people who are smart, exciting, moral and interesting. People who have educated themselves and enjoy their work. Our kids now have role models who truly care for them. Most kids, when immersed in a culture that appreciates and encourages education, aspire to do the same. Once they want to learn and see what they are capable of, there’s no holding them back.

It’s late Friday and the kids are practicing their oral presentation. They are impressive. Tomorrow morning the six students will do their oral presentation in front of the judges and the ROVs will perform in water in the afternoon. Results and awards will be Sunday night. Wish us luck!

Saturday, June 24, 2006, 1pm

This morning the team presented our ROV program to a panel of three judges. The six members spent 15 minutes with their presentation and another 15 in a Q & A session. Only two teacher/adults were allowed in the room with them. In previous years, we deliberately did not have any of our adults attend because we felt our presence would be of no help and possible add tension in the room. Besides, we are confident in the students’ preparation.

This year, however, Fredi and Karen monitored the presentation/interview. Last year a judge was especially harsh on one of the kids, asking Cindy, our newest member, what the two wavelengths of the laser light in the fiber optics were. Cindy is a fantastic, intelligent woman, but she is not our “science officer”. She explained how two different colors were used, one for two-way data transfer and the other signal for 2 video signals. He would not let Cristian answer and really pressed Cindy to admit she did not know. I doubt there were very few university students who could have answered the question. The rules stated that every member should have a general understanding of the principle involved, but very technical questions could be answered by the team expert. We wanted to witness this year’s session to see if something like that happened again.

It was a very fair interview. The judges asked probing questions to see the depth of the kid’s knowledge, but they did it in a very professional manner. All-in-all, Fredi, Karen and the kids felt they did well, but they were not perfect. There is a possible 70 points for the interview that goes toward the total competition score.

In two hours, we will perform the underwater missions. That is worth 170 points and there are bonus points possible for early completion. We replaced our faulty camera, however, it has not been tested in the water. If it fails to work when it goes to the bottom, Otis should still be able to complete his tasks with the renaining two on board. We are all trying to look calm, but I can tell all of us are feeling the little scary whine that starts building before a major performance. This is when the kids practice and training will take over.

11 pm

What a great day. 10 of the 16 “Explorer teams ran their missions this afternoon. Six of them did not earn any points. Their ROV’s simply sank to the bottom and were dead in the water. Two teams completed the entire missions and we were one of them!
The team that performed ahead of us, a university from eastern Canada, did all the tasks and received the 170 points. They finished with 15 minutes remaining so they also have a 15 point bonus. That meant that we would have to finish all the tasks within 15 minutes if we wanted the forst place rank.

As the timer began, Otis descended with the module that had to be inserted into the cabinet. Daniel and Cristian guided the ROV into the target area and quickly completed their first assignment. They then opened the door in record time.
At the same time, Pablo and Annalisa were having trouble getting Ipski-Pipski to pick up the first probe. They kept pushing it out of their reach. At last they finally had it in their grasp and started to weave the attached rope through the waypoints. It was taking a little longer than we would like, but they were ahead of the Canadian teams split time. They seemed to be having trouble rising above obstacles.

After passing the last waypoint, they went to insert the first probe in the module. Only 11 minutes had elapsed and we knew it was possible to complete inserting the last two probes in just a few minutes. This was shaping up into a great race.
Ipski seemed to be fumbling and wasting time. Seconds passed – a half minute then a whole minute, then two and still the probe was in the ROV’s claw. Then the kids started to pull the ROV to the surface by pulling the tether. Our hearts sank. Pulling on the tether is a five point penalty and it meant something was wrong. We watched as they retrieved Ipski and placed him on the deck.

The kids started to cut and move things around and we saw they were adding some buoyant floats. We could not think of any reason why they would be adding buoyancy. After a few minutes of M.A.S.H.-like operating, Ipski was put back in the water and descending to pick up the probes by the cabinets. It only took them 3 minutes to complete the last tasks of the mission and the two ROVs returned to the surface. They completed all the tasks in 26.8 minutes.

Our final score for the ROV performance is 170(perfect) – 5 (penalty for raising ROV by tether pulling) + 3.2 bonus for finishing early = Total 168.2!!
When we returned to the pits we saw what the problem was: Our “turkey pan” case that held the electronics had crushed in the four corners, thus we lost some of our volume and the ROV lost some of its flotation and could not rise above the bottom of the pool under its own power.

The kids had wisely brought it up, added flotation to compensate for the lost volume and completed the tasks. Their cool-headiness and decisive actions saved the day! In all the MATE ROV competitions, no one had completed all tasks, until today.

This evening we drove to Galveston and ate seafood. We told the waiter that it was Annalisa’s birthday and they made a big (and embarrassing) deal about it. She had to dance around Joe’s Crab Shack with two cones on her mouth like a seagull beak while the crowd sang the traditional Happy Birthday song.

Afterwards we walked around the historic town. It came so close to being hit by a huge hurricane last year that we all thought how fragile this community is. Surely some day a huge storm will once again wash over these cobblestone streets.

Tomorrow we will go watch the rest of the competition, including Arizona State University and Chandler High School from AZ.

Fredi is posting today’s pictures at: http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=42960&pagecat=209

Sunday morning

The last of the underwater competitions are over. The results of the mission tasks are:
Team # School/Team Name Mission Score
15 Arizona State University 0
10 CATE Center -10
6 Carl Hayden Community High School 168.52
5 Clatsop Community College 130
16 Franklin W.Olin College of Engineering 0
14 Long Beach City College 65
4 Marine Institute of Memorial University 185.05
2 MIT 0
8 Missouri Sate University 0
9 Monterey Peninsula College 70
3 Palm Beach Lakes High School 20
7 Pasadena Memorial 0
11 UC Davis -15
12 University of Waterloo DQ
1 University of Wisconsin Milwaukee -5

This evening, at the banquet, the technical writing, presentation and poster scores will be disclosed and the total scores. It looks like we are the strongest team for second place. We’ll see in a few hours.

It's amazing to see how many teams wound up with 0 or negative points. The water pressure sure takes its toll. I guess we could boast that we beat MIT again for the third time, but our ROV almost crushed and sank alongside the collegiate ROV debris..
The most rewarding part of the competition was to watch our students diagnose the problem when Ipski almost was crushed, quickly come to a consensus on a possible solution, haul the ROV up, add buoyancy, place it back in the water and continue the mission. All the while the clock it ticking and there is no room for error. They never gave up and pulled a successful mission out of a near disaster. They were a professional engineering team!

Sunday evening

It’s one of those bittersweet nights.
We won the second place overall trophy and we were very happy about it. In the last three years we have placed first, third and now second. We are very proud of our record. It’s not often a high school can consistently rank that high in a university competition.

The downer part of the evening, was when they announced that next year’s competition will be in Canada. While we would all love to visit Newfoundland, Carl Hayden High School is predominantly Hispanic and many of the students at school are undocumented. Neither Fredi nor I want to have to investigate student’s legal status or risk leaving the country with children who may have trouble re entering the U.S. As a result, we will not be competing next year in the MATE ROV competition.
SO this year season ends.

Annalisa will spend a few weeks in Atlanta as an intern video producer and then return to Phoenix to begin her engineering/business career at Arizona State University.

Lorenzo will be working at a local scuba shop this summer and then begins classes at Phoenix Community College.

Cristian has a new laptop computer and he is always using it: games, internet and Visual BASIC programming. He begins his engineering education at Arizona State University.

Pablo, Daniel and Adam will return to Carl Hayden in two months and they will be the new leadership along with Airreal, Angelica, Marco, Victor, Eric and a dozen others to begin another school year.

Thanks for all the kind words. We’ll be back soon.

Monday evening June 26, 2006 --Phoenix

We spent this morning in our Houston hotel. Actually, Daniel and Adam did not wake up until after noon!

We received emails and phone calls from some local Phoenix news media and a couple of Spanish language papers.

At least two national outlets have contacted us.

You guys are sure sending these emails around!!!

Craig, our school district public relations guru wrote a press release and I’ve attached it to this email.

When there is going to be national news exposure, I’ll tip you off.

Today was also Annalisa’s 18th birthday and we celebrated all day. She wore a pink crown even when we eat a Luther’s BBQ.

Most of us arrived safely home this evening. The exception is Fredi who is somewhere in west Texas on U.S.10 driving the ROV’s and equipment home. He’s the most amazing guy. All of the robotic activity is above and beyond his regular teaching duties. He does not even get any extra pay for any of it. When asked why he does it, he replies, “It’s the most effective teaching I’ve ever done”. What a professional. I’m lucky to be working with him.

There are some wise companies that have sponsored our activities: Intel, Honeywell, Wells-Fargo, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Their community investment programs make this all possible.

One local home builder, Ira A. Fulton, attended one of our presentations. He asked how much it cost to go to Houston. We replied that with airfare, hotels, meals and parts it was close to $10,000. He said, “Ill pay for that.” He did and it sure helped.

Our mentors, Karen and Jerry and Marcos have been such a positive influence on the kids. They change lives. I realize they have changed mine also. What an inspiration they are.

Several small businesses in the neighborhood have opened their parts and raw material supplies “for the neighborhood’s robotics team”. You see their names on the front of our team T-shirts.

There have been so many companies, engineers, technicians, and other professionals that we call on when we are stuck who will teach us on the spot what we need to know to solve a problem. Many have become friends. We may be a high school, but we have access to the best minds in the country.

The kids’ parents and families have been fantastic. We keep their kids for many hours after school which mean missed dinners, strange pick up and drop off times and all the adjustments families make to accommodate our weird schedules.

Our school principal, Steve Ybarra, and our staff have put up with all our antics. That’s a risky proposition for a well-ordered school. They took the risk and I hope all the messes we made and all the late passes we wrote were worth it.

Our school district, from the school board, superintendent to the last hired clerk have encouraged us and have seen that our forgotten or last minute paperwork is completed.

“it takes a village…” Nah, it takes many more people than a simple village!

And of course there are the hundreds of people who have sent us emails, letters, and have met us in person. You guys have been fantastic. It’s not unusual to see a wet eye in the room when we read a bunch of your emails.

I’m tired and I’m going to sleep tonight!



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