My team and I started this project as part of our senior design requirement that would span the two semesters of our senior year. The initial idea was given to us by a professor at the University of Miami, who I contacted in my search for project ideas.
The premise was simple: we had two semesters, or about 30 weeks, to create a research tool to help marine ecologists collect data in coastal environments. With the input of our stakeholder, and another scientist at the USGS, we developed the following project goals: way-point guided autonomy, portability (usable and transportable by 1 person), and a suite of sensors including depth, photography, and temperature. After careful considerations of our design space, time, and budget, we decided to build a autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) with a catamaran configuration.
Need Expanded (Bonus Reading)
Climate change and global warming have been talked about for years. There is no clearer demonstration of the destructive nature of these trends than the death of the coral reef.
Collectively, coral reefs have been shown to be worth about 172 billion dollars with their contributions to tourism, medicine, fishing, and storm surge protection. This valuable resource has been disappearing at an alarming rate, with one study showing that the Great Barrier Reef has been reduced to half of its area in the last 30 years. The cause of this disappearance is rising global temperatures and ocean acidification. Researchers studying this on a global scale receive very little funding and often gather data alone. The system we build would replace the labor and time intensive data gathering process. Our project aims to bring awareness to this ecosystem through photos and data. We also hope the data can help conservation efforts and future policy-making.
For a moving story on the problem at hand, I recommend the documentary "Chasing Coral" on Netflix.
The team spent much of the first semester proving need, developing requirements, and exploring the design space. With only a month to work on our solution, we chose to come up with a cheap testing platform for future work on electronics and sensing. In the spring semester, after many redesigns and revisiting goals, we finally built and tested our final prototype. We validated all of our systems separately, except depth readings, and did autonomous way-point testing. The final system also fits in a suitcase and has battery cells that agree with FAA regulations.
My background in mechanical engineering and robotics allowed me to take on multiple roles. One of my largest roles was the design of our center electronics enclosure and telescoping bridge in SolidWorks. I also ran static FEA analysis, drag analysis, static stability studies, waterline calculations, made product animations and helped assemble the electronics. As the boat assembly began, I utilized MATLAB for creating a dynamic simulation and autonomous controllers that would eventually control the boat.
Flash forward to Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Day, we received the Francis G. Tatnall Prize "for an outstanding project showing ingenuity, proficiency and usefulness." The team was very happy with the final product, but we are far from done. We will advance to the engineering school-wide competition and continue working on the project. We hope to have full validation and testing with our stakeholder in the coming weeks.