The semester is finally over!

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Our team has been relatively quiet as the members have been focusing on their individual research summaries, final projects, and preparing our laboratory move this summer! We unfortunately are losing Christopher Wells and Blake Swendrowski from the team, but they will be staying on as volunteers!

The laboratory will be moving to a brand new, research facility at our school — Sierra Hall. In this new lab there will be two focused labs: robotics / environmental sensing, and field science. The robotics / sensing side will consist of our ROVs, UAVs, water sensors and much more. The field side (the dirty one) will have our sandy beach, intertidal, coastal and estuarine monitoring.

Also on the map for this summer is our trip to the Cook Islands. Our collaborators from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK are going to try to tag along. We will be looking at the coral reefs that surround Rarotonga and Aitutaki and we hope to find some really near fluorescent proteins which can be analyzed and used in medical imaging, and other biochemistry applications!

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Credit: Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Closing in on the end of the semester!

Over the last two weeks, our team completed the ROV education and mentoring module of the NOAA sponsored “Crossing the Channel” outreach program. It is embedded in the respective Marine Science Academies at Channel Islands High and Frank Middle Schools. The students successfully designed and piloted eight different PVC ROVs! 20150420_160858 20150413_123310 20150414_124338 20150414_124334

For the final module, both the high and middle school students took a two day trip to our Santa Rosa Island Research Station! Last Friday our team went to pick up the students from the island aboard the NOAA research vessel, the Shearwater.

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Once the students were aboard, our team worked with the crew of the Shearwater with the goal of collecting preliminary research on fish behavior using our OpenROVs. Unfortunately the weather did not co-operate, we had to anchor just off shore of the island, instead of in the Santa Barbara channel, which we had planned. Despite the wind, we were able to launch two of our units. We demonstrated how we use the ROVs in research, and then allowed the K-12 students to get some hands on experience piloting!

Our ROV Control Center
Our ROV Control Center.
Students observing the data collection process.
Students observing the data collection process.

After about an hour, the surge and wind started picking up. In order to find fish, we were diving the ROVs near kelp beds, but the conditions and diminishing visibility resulted in kelp entanglement! We attempted to recover the ROV by navigating through, but in the end, we had to send down a diver to retrieve it. The ROV made it out unscathed; luckily we had a very experienced diver. The trip was a great experience for the middle, high and undergraduate students alike!

The semester is quickly coming to a close, there are roughly two weeks left, and the team still has a lot of work to do! The senior members of our team are preparing to present their projects and findings at the SAGE Student Research Symposium. In addition, they are working furiously to complete their final capstone project papers.

In exciting news, we have begun to collaborate with Dr. Mike Allen and his master’s student Guy Trimby, a team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, which is located in the United Kingdom. They are working on methods of specific biological molecule detection near coral reefs, using ROVs. We hope to aid them with their OpenROV modification and development, and in the future, with data collection. We are also preparing for our upcoming trip to the Cook Islands this summer, where we will be characterizing some of the reefs surrounding the islands!

Crossing the Channel STEM program

We are very passionate about getting kids excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Currently we run mentoring programs at three K-12 schools: a VEX Robotics Competition club at Briggs Middle School, ROV design and construction modules with Frank Middle School and Channel Islands High School. The ROV modules are part of the marine sciences academy of the two respective schools. The program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is titled “Crossing the Channel”. It combines CSU Channel Islands faculty, students, and professional mentors, to teach the K-12 students about the Channel Islands, marine and environmental science.

Last week we spent two days with Channel Islands High School and reviewed the uses of ROVs in research. We covered all of the projects that the team is currently participating in, and some of the preliminary results. This got the students very excited because they had the opportunity last year to build PVC ROVs. Our research projects allowed them to see the real applications, and helped to link the topics in marine ecology and biology that they have been learning. Our team then reviewed the basics of designing ROVs, and eight teams designed and constructed their own.

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Being that the program is based on hierarchal mentoring, the high school students disassembled their ROVs and made them into kits, complete with instructions for their counterparts at Frank Middle School. Our team will be at Frank Middle School all next week, constructing the ROVs, applying buoyancy, ballast, motors, electronics and then piloting!

The following week, we will be taking both Frank Middle and Channel Islands High school students to Santa Rosa Island to visit our research station! We will be heading out aboard the NOAA research vessel, the R/V Shearwater, and along the way, members of our team will be deploying our OpenROVs in a research project, which will allow the K-12 students to witness real research being done with ROVs, and have the opportunity to actively participate!

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Over 120 Dives!

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At first we were nervous about such an inexpensive and user created platform such as OpenROV for performing oceanic research. Comparable systems cost 10 times the price, but are unfortunately out of the reach of our funds. The OpenROV 2.6 units had a lot of problems with the motors, and we had concerns with durability. The new 2.7 unit has been so much more robust in just about every arena and has been a great tool. With just a few tweaks we have repeatedly and consistently collected data.

The team is finally getting settled back into repair, design and build mode after spending a combined three weeks deploying ROVs on Santa Rosa Island, where our Research Station is located. The total combined deployments has given us a total of over 120 dives. We are working on two research projects, a Marine Protected Area health study, and a subtidal/intertidal ecology study. The majority of the dives were done with our two transect duty 2.7 OpenROVs: The Remote Underwater Mariner (RUM) and The Black Pearl. We’ve learned quite a bit from using them on such regular intervals.

Lessons learned:

  • The motors need to have a strain relief on the copper windings to prevent breakage of the wire and subsequent shorting.
    • We used hot glue to better attach the windings to the rear of the stator, avoiding getting glue on the rotor and interfering with the motor mounts.
  • The ROV should always be slightly positively buoyant, we use the hold depth function which works great for running transects.
    • On one of the last 60 meter transects, our ROV’s tether became completely and utterly tangled in kelp due to heavy surge. Harsh conditions and attempts to pilot out of the tangled mess resulted in the tether being severed at 30 meters from the launch site, because the ROV was slightly positively buoyant, we were able to retrieve the ROV!
  • The out of the box balancing of our ROVs needed to have some ballast adjustment because of the tendency to pitch forward on straight transects.
    • The video transects we perform require a higher quality video, so we use two GoPro cameras, a forward one and a downward facing one. We mount them on a 3D printed rail system that Paul designed, with PVC skids for protection (the side outrunners are for the intertidal system.) The rail allows for adjustment of position for balance and ballast. Some additional high density closed cell foam floats from fishing nets were used to offset the weight, and provide more buoyancy in the rear.

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  • The topside adapter boards need to be fully sealed off. One of ours died due to corrosion from sea water splashes, and moist conditions.
    • We have a small pelican box with a battery powered wi-fi access point, the wires pass through holes we drilled and then filled with hot glue. This enables us to connect by wi-fi using our toughbooks, with all of the ports sealed.

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Two absolute necessities for repeated deployments are a tether management reel (a commercially available slip ring works well to allow the spinning) and if working in uncovered areas, a laptop shade!

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Coming and Going

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We have had a great time on the islands, and have had many successes, but unfortunately all things have to come to an end (for some of us). Team leader Paul and Dr. Dilly’s intertidal team headed back to the mainland, while team members Chris and Rebecca, stayed behind to complete the 3 weeks worth of surveying the MPAs. Even though the university is on spring break, the research must go on!

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The intertidal group came back early because they will be presenting their research which is titled “Channel Islands Intertidal Ecology: Past, Present and Future” at a Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) undergraduate research conference.

April marks a very busy month for us, as we are going to be doing a lot of STEM outreach, including building ROV’s with high and middle school students, along with mentoring some middle school robotics club students! We will be making three short trips to the Channel Islands with the kids, aboard the NOAA research vessel the R/V Shearwater and deploying ROVs!

We’ll be posting up videos soon with some of the highlights of what we saw, as mentioned before, here’s the video of the harbor seal headbutting our ROV!

Another awesome day!

In complete contrast with last trip to Santa Rosa Island, things have gone quite well! The rest of our intertidal team arrived and brought us a patch kit for the boat, and it’s holding air!

We have been testing our intertidal ROV, the Black Pearl, and it has passed through every test that we’ve thrown at it with flying colors.

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Pearl has a set of PVC skids and ballasts which also serve connection points for the intertidal rig. There is an accessory rail with a top down gopro camera, and a second at a 45 degree angle down and forward. Due to the extra weight, additional floats were necessary, but the ROV flies perfectly flat, and straight!

The intertidal system is necessary because there is often a lot of wave action in the shallow subtidal and intertidal zone, and the area is covered in rocks. It would be too dangerous to send in divers, so sending in an ROV is ideal, but running a straight transect is very difficult.

Our system was designed by Paul and uses a gondola, or track/rail set which attaches in the mid intertidal zone via two monofilament lines. The ROV is then launched from offshore by boat or kayak.

The boat / kayak setup is being designed to allow two National Park Service Intertidal Ecologists to carry one unit, place it on a kayak (their method of travelling between sites) and run their subtidal to intertidal transects after performing the intertidal surveyss. It consists of an aluminum frame with two ocean fishing reels with 150lb test line, a tether reel (with slip ring for tangle free operation) and a Ipad mount. The Ipad is in a submersible case, and provides GPS location, along with ROV control (currently not functioning due to software issues, so a tough book is being used.)

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We first tested it by launching it at the pier to prove the concept, and the ROV scooted perfectly along the lines!

Next we took the boat out and ran the lines from the boat to the pier, and yet again Pearl ran it with no problems!

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Finally, today was the real test, the system was deployed in the intertidal site. The setup worked very well, there was a wall of sea grass which caused us to need to extend the transect lines back further, but Pearl pushed through the sea grass no problem.

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