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WSU seniors dive into underwater class project
Thursday, May 3, 2012
By Matt Haugen, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. – Oil spill cleanup, ocean storm monitoring and acoustic research are just some of the uses for submarine robots. Washington State University students have been learning about these and other "real-world” applications as they’ve built an underwater vehicle this year.
"The goal of this senior design is to enter an autonomous underwater vehicle in an international competition,” said electrical engineering major Ben Brand. "There are universities from all over the world that compete.
"The vehicles will have to complete a number of tasks (at the contest) in San Diego, such as launching torpedoes, locating certain acoustic objects and picking up and manipulating certain objects in a test pool,” he said.
Senior computer science and electrical engineering design students from the College of Engineering and Architecture have spent the school year working on their autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).
Working with students from a variety of academic backgrounds has been worth the long hours – including some all-nighters – Brand said.
"It’s a ton of fun,” he said. "There’s a whole bunch of separate systems in the vehicle that have been integrated together, that all have to work together to make the whole thing work.”
The team uses WSU’s Albrook Hydraulics Lab for deep water testing. The facility has a massive water tank where the AUV can be submerged to depths not possible in any other controlled environment on campus.
While the AUV is connected to power and a computer through cables to run simulations, Brand said that will change soon.
"Eventually, we will have no communication with the robot whatsoever,” he said. "Everything will be done solely by the computer that’s inside. It’ll make all its own decisions and have to do everything on its own.”
Working on the AUV will help every one of the team members, he said, because AUVs are used every day.
"They are being used in the Gulf (of Mexico) to determine the level of oil left (from the 2010 BP spill), both on the surface and deep down,” he said. "They are dropped out of airplanes into the eye of ocean storms to determine how these storms stir up the ocean and then affect our weather on land.
"Another example is acoustic research in Puget Sound,” he said, "to determine how ships and construction affect marine life, which ultimately comes back to affecting us.”
The AUV team received donations from a variety of companies. Clippard Minimatic supplied pneumatic equipment, making torpedo launching, marker dropping and claw gripping possible. AGI Automation donated a pneumatic gripper and rotary actuator. Together, the two companies’ donations are worth more than $3,800.
Brand said they would also like to thank NAVSEA. They are their single largest source of funding and without them, this senior design never would have happened.
Ben Brand, senior, WSU College of Engineering, 478-227-2634, email@example.com
Matt Haugen, WSU News, 509-335-0487, firstname.lastname@example.org