LBCC ROV Team Eyes Top-10 Finish at International Competition

The LBCC Remotely Operated Vehicle team has been working the entire academic year to design, build and operate an ROV to use in the international Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s International ROV competition.

Thanks to a multitude of departments and individuals on campus, the team won the MATE regional competition in May.  Last week the team headed off to Long Beach, California to represent Oregon in the University and College category of the international competition.

Here’s an update from the team’s LBCC advisor, Greg Mulder:

The last day at the MATE competition was a lot more mellow but still a lot of fun.  

The main part of the competition today was the collaborative event where all the teams had to work together to complete a puzzle at the bottom of the pool.  LBCC’s ROV was so adept at moving puzzle pieces around that we were able to a) get our puzzle piece in in the shortest amount of time and b) still have time left over to train the neighboring team’s pilot (Singapore) whose ROV wasn’t working – he managed to get their team’s puzzle piece in with our ROV with 1 second left on the clock.  I don’t know if watching someone win a basketball game with a last-second shot from half-court ever brought tears to your eyes – if so, that’s a lot what watching this was like.

Afterwards, our team helped a few more teams with technical problems and then lent the ROV out to yet another team and then we headed to the beach again.  It turns out that LBCC ROV students really like Huntington Beach. 

In the evening, there was an awards ceremony that featured a talk from industry (trying to lure our students to the maritime field) and a talk from a scientist/technician whose work lead to side-scan sonar, which has been a central component into our species better understanding the bottoms of our ocean. 

It looks like LBCC came in around 9th place out of the 200 or so who started this venture way back in the fall.  This, simply, is not too shabby. 

Back at our rental house that night, the team made a meal.  In the kitchen they cooked while listening to ’80s music (which they called “classical”) and danced. 

Overall, it was a great week!

Meanwhile, thanks everyone who took a few minutes out of work and/or life to read about the team’s progress at the MATE competition/collaboration.  I hope we entertained you a little bit.

I’ll try to get one e-mail out next month that summarizes this experience along with the middle school camp the team is going to run.  I still need to talk about pink hats in society, learning outcomes from research and design experiences, adding competition and social good to the curriculum and so much more. 

But, for now, happy beginning of Summer Term!

Day 4 Update

Yesterday (Friday, June 24) was a big day for LBCC at the MATE International competition.

In the morning the team gave the oral technical presentation.  This consisted of a 15 minutes presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.  A few days before, team-member Alex took charge and started helping the team put together to give the presentation.  The result was a pretty stellar production.  The judges commented that the presentation was amazingly comprehensive and thus they didn’t have any “general” questions to ask and instead focused on very technical questions.  Team member Grant had astutely pointed out that the ROV used a combination of digital and analog cameras.  Due to latency in the digital cameras causing pilot problems, the digital cameras are really only good for data and AI analysis.  The judges dwelled on issues like these and our team did great and responded in a way that demonstrated knowledge through experience.  Thus, in the oral presentation, LBCC rocked!

The team then had their second go in the pool and doubled their score!  Where are we overall in score – we don’t yet know.  But, we are somewhere quite respectable!

After the second pool test a high-five and yee-ha was given followed by a quick beach trip.  We went to Huntington Beach for a bit.  And then returned for an all-teams get-together with food and volleyball.  Our team hung-out late and cleaned up and did their civic duty by cleaning up after the roughly 600 people here and then went to bed.

Today is the last day of the competition.

Here is where I really need to finally define what “competition” means in science.  There are roughly 20 “explorer” teams here (explorer=mostly university/college).  In science the competition is usually the human race competing “against” the universe to uncover its secrets.  Thus, these 20 teams are collaborating together to learn how to probe our oceans and waterways.  The main way you win here is by being so prepared that you have time to help other teams out.  We helped Purdue fix a displaced sensor, lent tools to Mexico and gave lots of moral support to Norway which had all sorts of issues caused by equipment transport. 

The next round, which you can watch live at is centered around a task where all teams together have to complete a pool bottom puzzle. 

LBCC’s ROV will be in the water at around 9:20 a.m.

Day 3 Update

LBCC Competed with their ROV in the water on Thursday, June 23 (Day 3) and did respectfully well.  The ROV completed 58 points of 300 points while in the water.  Many might say “Only 58 points?”  But, for those of you who have taken a calculus-based physics exam in the past, you might realize that this score is not unreasonable.  More importantly, it looks like this put us in the top-third of teams for Round 1 of water-testing.

The team goes in the water again today (Friday, June 24) at 1 p.m.  The highest score of the two water-demonstrations is the team’s final score for the water component of the competition.  You can watch live at:

Some highlights of the 15 minutes in water test include:

·         Quickly identifying a loose wire that was causing problems (I think this is similar to going out on a basketball court with a shoe untied).

·         An ROV that glided beautifully through the water.

·         A vertical profiler that didn’t work.  It turns out that allowing the instrument to sit in the sun right before the water run melted down the electronics.

·         An operation team that was initially bummed about getting a low score, but then talking to other teams and realizing that they did quite well.

Thursday night: 

·         The team was up late completely rebuilding the insides of the vertical profiler AND purchased an umbrella to shield electronics from the sun while waiting on the deck. 

·         The team worked on their oral presentation that happens Friday morning just a few minutes away from the time I’m typing this.

·         A nice dinner with teams from Mississippi, Mexico and Tunisia.

Oh … I should mention … this group of people works under stress with smiles, humor, care-of-each-other and a calm focus – it is not just a pleasure to work with such a great group, it’s a reminder that the human-race can be pretty darned OK.


Day 2 Update

Sent via email by LBCC ROV Team adviser Greg Mulder on Thursday, June 23:

Day Two has been event filled!

First, LBCC had to pass safety inspection.  And … we did on the first try!  In STEM, safety is first.  The MATE Center appropriately takes safety very seriously.  And LBCC flew through with flying colors.

Next, I told you in the last message that the Vertical Profile Team was going to perform their first full mission test.  Well, they did and it worked! 

Vertical Profile Team

Then the team, after being delayed by a thunder and lightning storm for the entire morning, was able to put the ROV back in the water to see how it survived the trip and …  it didn’t work right.  The controller that is used to drive the ROV wasn’t delivering signals to the ROV correctly.  The team spent two hours at the pool going through lab books, codes, wiring, Zoom sessions with members who stayed home …  and … they just couldn’t get it to work.

At 11 p.m., we went back to the Airbnb.  Chief programmer Dale and his support Nolan pledged to stay awake until they found the problem and fixed it and … the rest of us went to bed.

I woke up at 6 and found Dale sitting at the kitchen table eating a bagel.  I asked, “How did it go last night?”  And he responded nonchalantly, but with a smile, “ Oh … I found the problem by 12:30 a.m. and it works great.”

So, remember, one of my goals is to give you an idea of what a science/engineering competition is like …  well … yesterday was spent filled with suspense, challenge and success … and it’s all summed up with a bagel at the kitchen table and an “Oh … I found the problem by 12:30 a.m. and it works great.”

Day 1 Update

Thirteen of us boarded Avelo Airlines in Eugene – two of us were on an airplane for the first time.  After landing in California we quickly found our way to our Airbnb.  Goal 1 is to create a lab space in the house in which we can get the ROV back together and functional.  This turned out to be much easier than it has ever been in the past. 

LBCC’s first ROV, made in 2008, was the “Alan Throop,” which came in at 44kg and stood up nearly to a person’s waist.  This team came in 6th place out of 400 teams largely due to a huge robot arm that Linn Gear in Lebanon helped the team produce.  In order to get the Alan Throop to the 2008 competition, it had to be taken apart into at least a dozen pieces and stuffed into team members’ carry-ons and luggage.  Once at the dorms, it then took a full day to put the ROV back together.

This year’s ROV, named “Four Eyes,” has a mass of only 14 kg.  Right after finals week, the team  stripped components off a prototyping frame and then reinstalled everything on a newly built much smaller frame that will fit inside a single airplane baggage-sized container.  Thus, instead of spending a solid day putting everything back together, the team can now just take the ROV out the crate.  

In (photo below) you can see team captain Sara and pilot Levi getting “first light” from the cameras aboard the ROV.  In (next photo) you can see the ROV right on top of its travel baggage.

This is the first time that the LBCC ROV team had a functional ROV out-of-the-baggage and this means that we had time on our hands.  Thus, the team went to the beach and enjoyed a quick swim in the ocean!

After, we got back to work.  The team split into many tasks.  One group put some finishing touches on the team poster.  In science and engineering, posters are a central way of communicating what you as a researcher and/or designer do.  I mentioned Avelo airlines – Avelo charges $40 to bring a carry-on.  Thus, it made sense for us to print out our poster down here.  The team’s poster will be judged by three judges and their score will be a significant part of our score in the competition.

Another group, meanwhile, focused on a programming issue that the team’s “vertical profiler” had been facing since before finals weeks.  The vertical profiler is a device whose job it is to be released at the surface of the water by the ROV but then has to autonomously go down to the bottom of the pool and back up twice before being re-collected by the ROV.  Vertical profilers are used in the real-world to observe the biology and/or physical makeup of a column of ocean water.

And, this is a point where I can begin to point out a difference between typical sports competitions vs. science/engineering competitions.  The issue the Vertical Profiler (VP) Team had been facing for the past several weeks is a typical “play” that one gets to see while “watching” a science/engineering game.  The VP team had been systematically piecing this play together for 20 weeks.  So many parts of the play had been working great.  But, something was wrong.  The magnetic turn-on switch wasn’t always engaging, the VP would only go through its sequence of moves once and then had to be reset by unplugging and re-plugging the batteries.  Something clearly was wrong.  …  For those of you who don’t want to brave the details, all I can say is that the VP sub-team “won” their play and happiness ensued.

The VP team didn’t win their round until about 11 p.m. and the other sub-teams were all up late getting ready for their parts.  Day 2 was the first public round of the competition.  This is where the team has to pass the safety check!

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