Originally Published: May 12, 2008 9:58 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Three students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are branching into a different field of study - hydrodynamics.
René Valenzuela, Cory Ravetto and Eduardo Moreno formed an Underwater Robotics Research Team. The young men are building an underwater remote-controlled robot capable of retrieving items from the sea floor.
The students are entering the National Underwater Robotics Challenge June 6-8 at Chandler High School. Honeywell, Carl Hayden High School and the Arizona Promoters of Applied Science in Education sponsor the competition.
Moreno said the team tried to enter a robotics competition two months ago, but missed the
entry deadline. Instead of competing, the team volunteered at the event.
Ravetto said that, for the June competition, the team must build a "vehicle capable of completing simple tasks underwater. For this competition, it must be able to visualize the environment in the dark and pick up small items."
The tasks are simple, Ravetto said, "But doing them underwater presents a challenge."
Valenzuela said the compe-tition scenario involves an airplane on a humanitarian mission crashing into the ocean. The underwater robot must go in and pick up medicine and other supplies.
Moreno said building a remote vehicle is common.
"This one has to be waterproof. It must be hydrodynamic and lightweight," Moreno said.
"From an engineering stand-point, waterproofing is the most difficult and the most expensive. Also, we are all first-year students, so that is a challenge," Ravetto added. "We are branching out from the usual focus of Embry-Riddle. Hydrodynamics and aerodynamics are similar. This competition lets first-year students get involved in an engineering project."
The challenge for the team is getting parts that fit and are waterproof. The team made the thrusters for the robot.
The team also designed the robot so that they can modify it for other competitions.
The robot must include a camera and a microphone. Ravetto said underwater microphones are expensive. To help keep costs down, the team used normal household items such as modeling clay and a balloon to waterproof the microphone.
"For competition, the judges like to see teams being creative, not just going out and buying everything," Ravetto said.
The ERAU underwater robot will have one chance to prove what it can do. The team will submerge it for 30 minutes and complete a series of tasks.
"Actually, our robot is one of the largest in competition. We built it with room for growth. Also, ours is one of the more unique vehicles. We will mount our camera in the dome, providing us a view of the entire hemisphere (360-degrees). A secondary camera is on the claw," Moreno said.
Ravetto said the robot has a "local, practical application. Officials at Lake Pleasant need to check the support system of the docks. They have no way to do this except by hiring divers, which is very expensive. This type of robot could check out the support system."
Valenzuela said that in addition to representing ERAU, the team is looking toward the future.
"Since the competition is open to high school students, we hope to get local high school students involved and interested in attending Embry-Riddle," Valenzuela said.
Moreno said the team currently is looking for sponsors to help them with the costs of building the underwater robot.
Anyone interested in helping the ERAU Underwater Robotic Research Team should call the team through the main switchboard at 800-888-3728.
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