ASU robotics team makes a splash


September 17, 2012

The NASA Space Grant Robotics team at Arizona State University sent 10 team members to Orlando, Fla. in June to compete in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) international robotics competition.

Armed with Koi, a robot capable of functioning 30 feet underwater, the ASU team challenged 22 teams from across the country and across the globe, ranking 11th overall. Koi Download Full Image

Matthew Plank, a computer systems engineering junior and NASA Space Grant intern, is the team’s president and has been competing in robotics competitions since high school.

“Robots allow you to go places humans typically can’t,” explains Plank, who helped design Koi’s electronics. “They allow for exploration and study of deep sea and space.”

The MATE competition, which ASU has competed in since 2009, focuses on ocean-related occupations and real-world industry problems. Each team is judged on their ability to “sell” a design that could solve a real-world crisis or fill an exploratory need.

For past competitions, teams designed robots that could deal with issues surrounding the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill or could explore underwater volcanoes. This year’s mission revolved around a sunken World War II vessel and its potential impact on the environment. The robots removed fluid from the fuel tank and surveyed and mapped the surrounding area.

“Each team is treated like a pseudo company,” said Michael Przeslica, electrical team lead and material science and engineering junior. “We are judged and scored based on a professional engineering presentation, a twenty page technical report detailing every aspect of our robot, a poster presentation, and carrying out a physical mission with our robot.”

During the physical mission each team had 15 minutes to complete approximately 20 underwater tasks.

The six months of work that the team put in culminated in the Martin Klein MATE Mariner Award for the team’s practical application of their knowledge and skills and for the desire to improve. This award included a $1,000 grant to support next year’s team.

The team came home with a second award. Emily McBryan, a senior aerospace engineering major, received the Engineering Evaluation Most Valuable Player individual award.

“I have been a member of this robotics team for four years now and this year the greatest lesson I have learned is how a team can come together and combine its talents in order to fulfill a mission. Koi is a great representation of not just our engineering skills but our teamwork skills and leadership ability,” says McBryan, who served as the robotics’ team president for the past two years.

The ASU/NASA Space Grant Robotics team does more than build award-winning robots, however.

“This is an opportunity to learn hands-on skills and to demonstrate leadership in the field,” and anyone who is willing to learn can join, Plank said.

About 20 active members with majors ranging from materials engineering and Earth and space exploration to computer science participate on the team. The team meets officially two days a week for two hours each, but Plank said that members are welcome to work as long as they are willing.

“We’re big on getting our hands dirty,” Przeslica said.

Phil Christensen, Regents’ Professor of Geological Sciences in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, provides lab space for the team in the Mars Space Flight Facility in the Moeur building.

“We like to surround ourselves with the spirit of exploration,” Przeslica said, adding that the research that is conducted around them is an inspiration for the team.

The team also competes in the National Underwater Robotics Challenge competition and will be adding the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International competition, which focuses on fully autonomous robots, to its schedule this year.

In addition to learning real-world skills, Anthony Hallas, a computational mathematical sciences senior, said that his experience on the robotics team has had a practical application to his classwork.

The group is mentored by Shea Ferring, propulsion engineering manager for Orbital Sciences Corporation and Space Grant alumnus, and ASU graduate student Robert Wagner.

Although the group has mentors, Plank said that the team is student-run and members learn from each other more than anything else.

He added that the “hands-off” dynamic has encouraged members to learn to work with other engineers and learn something completely different from their respective majors.

“You can never downplay how important actually doing engineering and learning from other members is,” Plank said.

The team relies on NASA Space Grant support, donations and awards for material costs and travel to competitions. Unfunded travel costs are paid by students determined to see their project from beginning to end. Their current robot, Koi, is valued at approximately $6,900. For this year’s competition, they plan to design and build new systems with upgraded capabilities.

Written by Kristen Hwang

Media contact:

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration

Student designs custom aerator system to cool ASU pool


September 17, 2012

Faculty at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) frequently encourage students to create solutions to real-world problems, often taking an idea within the classroom and implementing it throughout the campus or community. That initiative is no different for Nathan Padron, who developed and installed a device that can cool the ASU Polytechnic campus pool nearly 10 degrees.

Padron, an engineering student at CTI, saw a need for a more effective solution to lowering the overall temperature of the pool. In the past, the pool temperature would reach more than 90 degrees during the summer. Download Full Image

Padron, who is also the aquatics and safety education coordinator at the Polytechnic campus, developed a custom-designed pool aerator that uses a vacuum system to circulate water from the pool into the air. The process of pool water interacting with air decreases the overall water temperature.

Because of his study in thermodynamics within his major, Padron was able to identify the effects of heat transfer on mass flow rate.

“A lot of what you learn at CTI is how to take the engineering principles and apply them to real-world projects outside of the classroom,” Padron said. “We are encouraged to incorporate our own interests with what we are learning in class.”

Padron was inspired by other pools around the Valley that implemented a similar system, but he says they weren’t as big as his own design.

“We never had a successful year cooling the pool in the past,” said Jeff Vance, director of Sun Devil Fitness at the Polytechnic campus. “When Nate came to me with a clear methodology of how this system would function, I was convinced that it would actually work this time.”

Past solutions to cool the pool included ice blocks and a sprinkler system.

Aside from temperature reduction, the aerator also decreases the growth of algae in the pool significantly. Vance explains that algae thrives in an environment above 84 degrees. To decrease the amount of algae in a pool, chemicals are necessary along with a decrease in water temperature below 84 degrees.

“Before, we were using a lot of chemicals to keep our pool from being green,” he said. “Because of the aerator, less chemicals are used on the pool and that saves money. ”

The total cost of the aerator was $50. Vance says a commercial aerator can cost up to $2,500.

“It has been the best investment we have made in our pool in seven years,” Vance said.

Padron considers his work ethic a result of both his upbringing and experiences within CTI.

“We are encouraged to fix something if it needs to be fixed,” Padron said. “It is so cool to have that hands-on experience, especially when you see something you designed being built.”

Vance is just one of many at the Polytechnic campus that celebrate students taking the initiative when they see issues on campus.

“We’re giving latitude to students to make decisions,” Vance said. “In turn they take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in a real-world setting."

Written by Sydney Donaldson, College of Technology and Innovation