PSC takes OpenROVs to Guadeloupe

Latest update November 18, 2017 Started on March 15, 2017

Polk State College students are going to take OpenROVs to Guadeloupe during the Fall 2017 semester. We'll be designing bigger, more varied payloads than we've ever done before. Naturally, this means we'll also be spreading our unabashed enthusiasm for the OpenROV platform.

March 15, 2017
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This was our first fill day in Guadeloupe. We spend the morning touring the facilities of the science department at Université des Antilles's Guadeloupe campus; they are doing some really exciting things with lubricants, polymer aging/durability, sickle cell research....very diverse and extremely interdisciplinary. We really enjoyed the electron microscopy labs, where they showed us the chemosynthetic bacteria you see in the picture below. The host these microbes live in is a small clam. Although it is in shallow water, this similar to the microbes living in the Riftia worms of hydrothermal vents.

In the afternoon, we drove OpenROV 3536 in the test pool of the university. We placed a plastic target in the tank and practiced retrieving it from the bottom....a neat way to 'game-ify' the process of practicing ROV piloting.

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Today we showed the ROV to middle school girls from Polk county Florida as part of our larger STEM outreach program. Education researchers say that middle school is about the time that kids start to wonder if they can do science, so we had them participate in a variety of science activities. For the ROV component, we took the kids out on a boat into Crooked Lake where they used binoculars to ID shore birds, took water samples, analyzed them for nitrates, dissolved oxygen, pH, etc. For the ROV component, they operated the lights, laser, learned how to pan the camera up and down, and closed one of the mini-niskin bottles we've been using.* Back on shore there were other activities for the girls. (I know one was a fossil dig. I'm not sure about the others.)


We have less than six weeks before the trip to Guadeloupe, so I've been working on the home made Niskin bottle.

A few months ago Judith Baker gave a talk at #AES17 about eDNA. When we spoke afterwards, she said she was using four liter samples. That greatly simplified the designs I'm using. Previously we had been planning to use two niskin bottles on a sled, but triggering two with a single AUX connection would be problematic. The lower volumes mean we can use a single home made Niskin bottle and still get useful eDNA samples.

We wanted something that could be triggered by the OpenROV 2.8, could be built in a shop or garage with common tools, was made out of readily available materials (we used plumbing parts) and could collect scientifically useful samples. The result is the big niski you saw before - a single bottle made of a two foot section of 4-inch interior diameter PVC - mounted to a a "sled" made of buoyant plastic kitchen cutting boards. The combination of the two is barely positively bouyant in fresh water. I'll bring along some disk style fishing weights like the ones used on our OpenRov 2.8 to make sure we can get it neutral when we are on site. The trigger assembly is smaller nested PVC tubes. The servo to pull the pin is mounted to the plastic with zip ties.

The whole assembly is easy to set up and trigger. Here's an example video.

Thank you Nicole. I just found out that there's an OpenROV trident demo at Blue Heron Bridge on Nov. 5. (After they do DEMA) I plan to be there, and I've volunteered to help in any way I can. (no response yet, BTW) If you're accompanying them, you can look the ROV over yourself and see some other things I've done, like using 3-wire LED connectors to allow interchangable payloads


Here are photos from when our students took the OpenROV 2.8 they built to Phil Foster/Blue Heron Bridge. This was the shallow boat by the east span

After the kids were stowing the ROV, I shot some video of the same boat. This is the part of the park that I think would be a good spot for OpenROV to demo the trident

It is also close to the sunken sailboat in the middle of the east span

Of course, the whole site is terrific. The west end of the snorkel trail has the hammerhead statues

the west span has the pillars, and I've seen more octopus and eels there than on the east side.

Yesterday our school hosted an Earth Day event for students and their families. This provided an opportunity to let people fly OpenROV #3536 and learn about how we're going to be using it in Guadeloupe. We equipped the ROV with a water sampler - a niskin bottle - and let the people take samples. This allowed us to talk to them about types of water pollution and how we test for them....but most of the questions I fielded were about the OpenROV and its capabilities.

We had people of all ages and backgrounds using the ROV. Here are some adorable photos of a two year old controlling it. She got pretty good at up and down, but will need practice to get the hang of the left joystick,

Niskin Bottle: Oceanography for Everyone

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OpenROV #3536 has been assembled for the trip to Guadeloupe. Both the IMU and the AUX - the most essential functions for taking water samples at specified depths - appear to be working properly. The ROV has used a mini-Niskin bottle* to collect a water sample.

Next up for OpenROV: Finishing the topside box, tether, tether winder. I used the accessories from OpenROV #3251 (aka 'Sylvia') to test this new ROV. Now I need to make sure both machines have matching equipment. I'd also like to do some pool testing. It makes sense to try it out in 15 feet of water before pushing deeper. Also, a pool is large enough that I can get some practice navigating by compass headings displayed by the IMU

Next up for payloads: Work on the large Niskin bottle to improve the trigger assembly and to get it neutrally bouyant so it can be towed behind an OpenROV.

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Potting the IMU right now. Fingers crossed to make sure everything goes OK.

Lights, lasers, camera servo, thrusters and AUX servo worked fine when booted. The camera, OTOH, didn't display. I disassembled most of electronics, found bent pin on the camera-end of the cable that plugs into the to beaglebone's USB port. After bending the pin the other direction with a scalpel blade - none of my screwdrivers were thin enough - I reassembled everything, and rebooted, happy to find that the camera was now working.

The camera is still working after multiple reboots and camera servo movements.

After the potted IMU is installed, I'll assemble the rest of the ROV and put it in the test tank for the "bathtub test" where I configure the motor direction so it drives properly.

Enjoy, you are doing amazing!

Thank you! That is a great compliment coming from you, Erika :-)

The 2.8 OpenROV we're building for the trip is now partially assembled. We also tested the big PVC Niskin bottle and found out that it holds a little over four liters. I'm going to modify the trigger assembly and use tapered pins made of metal. The wooden dowels were swelling when wet, and it took a fair bit of force to pull them....more than I'd want to ask of a servo.

Expedition Background

In the last three semesters, faculty at Polk State College have used 2.8 OpenROVs to collect water samples in some of our Oceanography, Environmental Science and Biology classes. We expect this to become more common as additional faculty in these subjects become familiar with their use. Students at PSC’s affiliated collegiate high school have built OpenROVs which they’ve demonstrated to both STEM and business audiences.

We are just getting started; the program is being expanded to involve additional classes, more students, and to do so in more places. There will be a focus on other areas of science and exploration, such as environmental productivity and the impacts of contamination. Our upcoming Fall 2017 trip to Guadeloupe will combine the excitement of travel - for many of our students, this will be the first time they have left Florida - with citizen science. Participants will be able to pilot the ROVs and also utilize the new ROV payloads that we are developing.

We have been asked if our OpenROVs are capable of collecting water samples large enough to isolate eDNA. Our current efforts – due to the bigger water samples needed for eDNA – are focused on building larger Niskin bottles and a sampling sled to carry them. The new Trident models appear to be better suited to towing equipment than the 2.8 ROVs that we are currently using.

Faculty in Guadeloupe have also expressed an interest in using ROVs to sample sediment and deposit equipment on the sea floor. These goals will be met by designing a variety of interchangeable payloads, while also attempting to ensure that they can be constructed using a minimal set of basic tools. We’ll demonstrate that micro-ROVs are not toys and can be legitimate research tools.

The OpenROV platform is particularly useful because it engages our students. The majority of them are not SCUBA certified. For many, flying an OpenROV may be the only way they will ever see below the water. Without the ROVs, these students’ sampling had been restricted to either the surface, or blind collection at depth. Now they can investigate beyond the water’s surface, collect samples, and do so without expensive equipment and training.

Piloting an ROV allows them a chance to experience aquatic life in real time and feel a connection to some of the things they have heard about in their course work. This gets them excited about STEM while increasing awareness of the natural world and the challenges to maintaining its health. We hope this will create a new generation of ocean advocates.

We are thankful for this opportunity to apply for the gift of an OpenROV Trident, and for the support you have shown for our prior efforts. Your leadership in the industry and enthusiasm for our work is greatly appreciated. We hope to be able to use the Trident in in ways that will make your company proud.

Wow, that would be great. We're planning to be there around Thanksgiving break. Does that fit in with your plans?

I have informed my fellow science faculty members of your very generous offer of working with our students. We are certainly excited about the possibility of working with you, since we have limited experience with the conditions of the Lesser Antilles. If you are willing to allow us, there are many options where the use a boat would make a huge difference in our students’ experiences, including snorkeling offshore, ROV operation, plankton trawls, and collecting sediment samples

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