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5:20 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

ERAU Underwater Robotics Team wins first competition

PRESCOTT - The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Underwater Robotics Research Team has set the bar high.

In its first competition, and first year of existence, the Flying Goldfish brought home the first-place trophy for college level at the second annual National Underwater Robotics Challenge at Chandler High School on June 6-8.

The team also received a special judges award for its unique design.

René Valenzuela, Cory Ravetto and Eduardo Moreno formed the Underwater Robotics Research Team to explore a different field of study - hydrodynamics.

The young men built an underwater remote-controlled robot capable of retrieving items from the sea floor. Its circular shape and dome was a contrast to the box shapes of most of the other entries. The team mounted a camera in the dome that provided a 360-degree view.

Valenzuela said a 30-minute pool competition was just one part of the scoring. Judges also looked at the team's technical report, oral presentation,

video submission and website.

The true test came when it was time to put their robot in the water. Its round shape and running lights caused quite a stir.

The organizers based the underwater mission scenario on the book "The Hot Zone" and the movie "Outbreak."

The mission required competitors to recover submerged objects, take measurements, and decode underwater acoustic signals in order to stop the advance of an ebola epidemic.

Each team's pilot navigated their robot through a military airplane crash off the coast of Senegal. The robots would try to recover vials of serum, the transport's flight recorder and the Personal Data Assistant of a world-renowned researcher containing valuable scientific data to prevent a worldwide pandemic.

Valenzuela said the team experienced a few problems.

"A couple of our magnets fell off. We had glued them on with superglue, but when the robot went into the chlorinated pool water, they came off. Also, our lights were in a fixed position and reflected back into the dome," he said.

Moreno piloted the robot. He said he could have used more practice.

"The pilot can only see what the camera picks up and shows on a television," Moreno said.

While Valenzuela and Ravetto could watch the action from the side of the pool, they could not communicate with Moreno during the competition.

"More time for preparation is definitely necessary, as is practice piloting the robot in the water," Valenzuela said.

Moreno said they hope their success will encourage other ERAU students to join the club. He said that since the competition is open to high school students, they hope to make contact with local students and create an interest in underwater robotics.

Contact the reporter at prhoden@prescottaz.com