Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building ROVs

Ronan and Grandma sharing a giggle

A month ago Grandma read the post on our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and noted Ronan's specific interest in machines that do underwater work. Both Grandma and Grandpa are active stewards of our planet's most precious resource - our oceans - they spend their time volunteering for The Marine Mamal Center, The Monterey Bay National Sanctuary, and The Friends of the Elephant Seals (amongst others). Being active means being in the know, so Grandma suggested we bring Ronan to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI - pronounced by those in the know as 'em-bar-ie') open house.

Nieve roaring on the MBARI dock

Ronan buttering Grandpa up... he's becoming even more aware of the undeniable power children wield over their grandparents.

Grandma was right... Ronan loved it. In addition to he the wealth of information for curious adults there were hands-on exhibits designed specifically for kids. Ronan first toured the fabrication shop where most of the MBARI machines are created. He was impressed by the water jet cutter, the 5-axis CNC mill and the CNC lathes. He even noticed arc welding equipment but sadly there were no welding demos... too much of a hazard.

"Hey, that buoy matches my vest!"

Next we explored some of the large remote operated vehicles (ROVs) on display. I was a little surprised Ronan did not spend more time inspecting the impressive submersibles, but perhaps the crane on display overwhelmed his attention. Ronan did stop long enough to watch an operator control an ROV's mechanical arm to stack blocks with apparent ease.

A crane - a well placed distraction

Ronan and Grandpa witnessing block stacking

But the highlight of the day for Ronan came when he was able to design, build, and operate his own little ROV. MBARI provided a basic motor set (three single-speed, bi-directional motors with propellers on them and their control unit), a battery, a large portable pool (about three meters in diameter), and a bucket of PVC pipes/joints.

The build phase - putting the final touches on the ROV

Testing out the controls

Our design was very simple - a shoe-box shaped frame with motors configured to make forward, back, up, down and yaw control easy. The flair of our ROV was entirely of Ronan's making - he designed & built "smokestack" off of the left side of our frame that also included a "periscope". Those were his words.

Keeping the smokestack above the surface

The designer and his ROV

Amazingly, when we put our machine into the water, that periscope/smokestack extended up out of the water, even when the ROV was on the bottom of the pool. When we handed in our ROV at the end of our time slot (time is limited else no-one would leave) the docents laughed at the design and asked while pointing to Ronan's smokestack, "what's this thing for?" When I explained what it was for they thought it was even funnier, but this time a clever way. They didn't believe it was Ronan's idea... they accused me of trying to make a coal powered submarine.

The unique design drew a crowd

The inspiration for Ronan's ROV design element?

Nieve was a little too young to partake in ROV building but she did enjoy exploring the exhibits, walking along the beach boardwalk, and of course visiting with Grandma and Grandpa. I imagine in a couple of years she'll be back at the open house, working along side her brother, designing and building something even more audacious than an ROV with a smokestack & periscope.

What Nieve loved most - the freedom to explore on her terms

A happy Daddy with his independent little girl


CalBadger said...

Excellent blog-both photos and test, Erik. I want everybody to know that I'm not biased in the least! I do, however, disagree that the grandkids have any holdover me at all! (Diana is laughing in the background)!

Holly Teetzel said...

I guess the engineering gene didn't skip a generation this time. I'm amazed that Ronan put together such a complicated ROV AND knew how to work the controller! Glad Nieve was able to just enjoy the fresh air - looks like a great outing.