Technical troubles sink Seawolves’ robot chances

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sometimes things just go wrong.

     Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Seawolves Underwater Robotics Engineering (SURE) team learned this during their robotics competition Friday in Orlando, Fla.

     “We had a good trip over there, but we ran into a few technical problems,” said Co-Lin physics instructor and SURE team sponsor Kevin McKone.

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     The team’s robot had two 15-minute periods to complete a variety of tasks, all while the robot was underwater in the pool. But during the team’s two underwater sessions, problems occurred.

     “One time we opened the laptop and it didn’t work,” said McKone. “That disqualified us. Five minutes later, the kids opened the laptop and it came right up.”

     The second round featured a problem with the underwater video camera that led to another issue.

     “An hour before the second mission, team members took the (Remote Operated Vehicle) apart and found a broken wire in the video camera,” said McKone. “We repaired the wire, but when we put it in the water, we didn’t have the ROV balanced and we were not able to complete any of the missions.”

     McKone said he did not have the final score yet, so he didn’t know exactly where the team finished.

     “It really was disappointing after all the work we put in,” he said. “Everything had been working fine before, but when you have something that complex many things can go wrong.”

     After the competition, McKone said team’s struggles were difficult to take.

     “You want the students to be rewarded for hard work,” he said. “We didn’t walk away with any awards and that was difficult. There was no question about it.”

     Co-Lin’s team was able to participate in an engineering presentation and a business presentation that were part of the overall competition.

     McKone said that despite the troubles, he was pleased with his team’s work.

     “I was very proud of the kids,” he said. “When the ROV wasn’t working properly, I had a few come up to me and tell me how good it was to be part of a team. The kids were just inseparable while we were there.”

     A great part of the competition was interacting with other teams, according to McKone.

     “The competitive level was extremely high, but the teams from all around the country and world were super friendly,” he said. “There were home school students on other teams that were juniors in high school. Our students got to talk to other students who had designed their ROV and got good information.”

     The SURE team knew they were working against the odds at the competition, as first-year teams typically don’t fare well. But that didn’t matter to McKone.

     “We didn’t want to be like other first-year teams,” said McKone. “It’s generally teams that are several years into the program who are competing at the top level. That was reiterated to us on multiple occasions.”

     Despite the team’s troubles at the competition, McKone said students did not seem frustrated.

     “I’ve had emails the past two or three days from students who looked at new designs and how to incorporate hydraulics into a ROV,” he said. “We have two or three kids coming back for next year who won’t be graduating and they’re already looking at what we can do better.”

     Ideas that team members took from Orlando included what the robot was made from, as the Co-Lin ROV’s frame was built from extruded aluminum, while the top few teams had robots made from high-density plastics.

     McKone said the team will learn from this year’s struggles and aim to return with a better robot in 2013.