AVALON ROV: Meet the world of underwater robotics
Who are we?
We are a group of enthusiastic undergraduate engineering students from different departments within the University of Sheffield such as:
- Mechanical Engineering
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering
- Automatic Control and Systems Engineering
- Computer Science
- Aerospace Engineering
Our story began in 2017 when we became the first university team from England to participate in the prestigious international underwater robotics competition MATE ROV in the USA. Since then we have also managed to participate at the 2018 competition where we have qualified as one of the 28 successful teams out of 175 that made it to the Explorer class, which is the most advanced in the competition. This year we are competing again in this competition and aiming higher.
What are we doing?
We are designing and building an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), to perform missions underwater such as installing turbines or retrieving samples. ROVs are used in environments where it is dangerous or impossible for divers to carry out a task, as they are commonly used on oil rigs and at ports for inspection. The competition involves a set of challenges based on real problems and it's our mission to design and build an ROV that can accomplish these tasks. The competition’s theme changes each year and this year it is about:
- Ensuring Public Safety – inspecting and making repairs to a hydroelectric dam.
- Maintaining Healthy Waterways – monitoring water quality, determining habitat diversity, and restoring fish habitat.
- Preserving History – recovering a Civil War-era cannon and marking the location of unexploded cannon shells.
How do we achieve this?
First of all, we start with a plan. During August of each year, we plan for the next season, then during the start of the academic year in September we begin our recruitment process in order find the most enthusiastic students to join our team.
Due to the multidisciplinary nature of our project, we are split into four different sub-teams: mechanical, electrical and control, software, as well as finance and outreach. Each candidate applies for a role within one of the sub-teams, where they are allocated after if they are among the successful applicants. Our sub-teams work in a perfect synergy towards completing the ROV.
Our mechanical sub-team works on designing the chassis of the ROV as well as on designing the manipulators that perform the tasks such as grippers. This sub-team has the unique challenge of sealing all the electronics, cameras and motors so that they can function underwater without any issues. They deal with the material selection for different components as well as manufacturing them.
Electrical & Control sub-team
Our electrical and control sub-team works on designing the electronics circuits responsible for controlling, powering and communication of the ROV. They achieve that through designing printed circuit boards then assembling them into complete electronic systems. They also work on selecting all the sensors needed to perform the competition tasks.
Our software sub-team works on the interface between the pilot and the ROV by making a GUI that allows the pilot to drive the ROV through a joystick and show him the video feed from the onboard cameras. They also work on solving some of the missions using image processing for challenges like shape detection and line following.
Non-technical sub-team - Finance & Outreach
Last but not least, there is the non-technical sub-team which includes the team leader, finance officer and outreach officer, who play a crucial role in Avalon. Their responsibilities involve managing the team, sourcing the money needed to build the ROV as well as funding our travel to the USA, communicating with external partners and advertising. They are also responsible for sharing our work with others through social media and events.
Why are we doing this?
Our aim is to learn and gain practical hands-on experience that complements our courses and makes us better engineers, scientists and leaders. This is not as dull as it sounds though, as we are also having fun and enjoying working on such a challenging yet fascinating project that is continuously pushing us to come up with creative solutions. As a result of our teamwork and organisational challenges, we also polish our soft skills such as communication, time management and problem-solving, as well as self-confidence and strong work ethics.
Do we only build ROVs?
Of course not! Our role within the local community of Sheffield, UK, is very important: we promote engineering and technology, we increase awareness of STEM subjects, especially among the young generation and the public, by participating in various outreach events (both locally and on a national scale). Our goal is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers!
Do we do it all alone?
Of course not! We are grateful to our sponsors for helping and supporting us through generously donating components. Thanks to DesignSpark supplying parts from RS Components, we have been able to build a better ROV this year making us better prepared for the MATE ROV 2019 competition!
We are very excited for this season, as we are bringing some big upgrades to our ROV this year and we can't wait to go to Kingsport, Tennessee, at the end of June to see what other teams have done and compete with them.
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Sheffield University certainly has a lot of students working on Robotic/Space-related projects! We look forward to seeing reports on the progress of the Avalon underwater ROV, Marsworks rover and SunSat CubeSat. Meanwhile I'll be reporting on the preparations of the Open University Rocket Team for the Spaceport America Cup competition and their Rover team working towards the European Rover competition in September.