The Early Years
The Underwater Robotics Team was established as a new student organization at The Ohio State University in the fall of 2010. Former team president, Emily Gyde, gathered support from a handful of young Ohio State students to launch a new project team within the College of Engineering. The team’s preliminary focus was solely the design of ROVs. Given the group’s composition of primarily mechanical engineering majors, its narrow focus best fit the team’s capabilities.
During its first year, the team was extremely limited given its tight budget. Although, the team did construct an ROV consisting of a PVC frame and bilge pumps (Buckeye Boulder), the primary focus became the acquisition of various resources to allow for the success of the team. This involved finding a workspace, advisors, and building community relationships. The team also began incorporating course content into the design via the use of SolidWorks.
These relationships became vital during the team’s second year where they constructed a carbon fiber chassis ROV (Carbon Carmen). In doing so, the Underwater Robotics Team gained its first introduction to machining and composites. This project involved computer numerical control (CNC) machining aluminum molds for the carbon fiber to take shape. The 2011-2012 ROV was constructed with much help from the Ohio State Buckeye Bullet team (Block-O-Bot). The design also had various aluminum blocks meant for interfacing the external wiring of the ROV, such as the wires for the thrusters and claw. Furthermore, an electrical engineering major in the Underwater Robotics Team took it upon himself to construct a circuit board to control the vehicle.
The team took a major step forward by learning much about both the mechanical design aspects and the electrical design aspects of a ROV. However this design suffered from many flaws. Its large cross-sectional area in the altitude directions generated much drag and thus the ROV was unable to adjust its vertical position. The electrical board generated a lot of heat which the carbon fiber chassis could not dissipate causing it to overheat. The chassis itself consisted of two identical carbon fiber pieces where mating surfaces were bolted together. These surfaces were not flat enough for sealing applications, and thus the ROV leaked in water. These setbacks, though disappointing, provided the team with a great deal to learn from.
In the third year, the team finally accomplished what it had sought to do for the two previous years – compete in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International ROV Competition with Jaws. The vehicle's design consisted of four thrusters and a cylindrical acrylic housing with aluminum end caps. It used an Arduino board as a means to controlling the thrusters. This design was possible from the funding provided by outside support which allowed for the purchasing of thrusters and a budget for materials, such as acetyl and aluminum.
As the team grew and gained more members, the diversity of the team grew to include more computer science and electrical engineering majors. Thus during its fourth year, the team decided to pursue an ROV with rotating thrusters. This required extensive programming and thorough controls analysis. These proved to be more challenging than expected, and the team was able to resolve the issues over the subsequent year to compete in the MATE International ROV Competition.
This design provided many exciting new challenges, such as the use of an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to control the orientation of the ROV, but more importantly gave a better understanding of the challenges which are more associated with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).
Onward to Autonomy
The team began desiging its first AUV, Riptide, in 2015. The vehicle was representative of the team's strong background in mechanical engineering, as it featured a welded main housing, an acryllic end cap, and several CNC and waterjet parts. While the physical platform was solid, the transition to autonomy was a major challenge for the electrical and software teams. Despite this, the team found success in 2016 at their very first RoboSub appearance with a semi-finals qualification and an award for Best Journal Paper.
The following year, the team dealt with a large reorganization and sudden lack of resources which made it difficult to follow through with any significant changes to the vehicle. The team played the hand they were dealt and continued making improvements wherever possible. A major flaw in the electronics found late in the year meant the team would be going to RoboSub 2017 uncertain that anything would work. Through competition week, the team worked long nights to assemble a patchwork version of the electronics system. The jumbled mess of wires was just enough for the team, for the second year in a row, to make it through qualification.
In the 2017-2018 school year, the team's focus has been acting on the long list of lessons learned accumulated over two years competing at RoboSub. A number of changes have been made both to the vehicle and in how the team itself operates. With an exponential increase in testing time and opportunities for revision, the team has reached a new level of understanding as to what it takes to be competitive.
Leading up to RoboSub 2018 the summer was dedicated to software with some refinements to our mechanical systems. Then finally at competition the team unveiled Maelstrom, our first truly autonomous vehicle with a new sheet metal chassis and completely redesigned electrical system. The team had its best year yet taking 4th place in static judging, the best presentation award, and 9th place overall out of 47 teams (one spot away from finals!)
During the 2018-2019 school year the team spent time refining our organization and management system along with mechanical and electrical improvements. A huge milestone was also reached with the team finally purchasing a Doppler Velocity Logger (DVL), a huge monetary investment. With new sensors and refined systems the team plans on going further than ever before in RoboSub 2019.