Ro­bots in the deep end

Springfield Sun - - NEWS - By Linda Finarelli lfinarelli@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @lk­finarelli on Twit­ter

UP­PER DUBLIN >> Off­shore rig in­spec­tions, mil­i­tary mine counter mea­sures, search and res­cue mis­sions, marine re­search — all part of a day’s work for an ROV. Ear­lier this month, a yellow and black re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle took on a new role: star at­trac­tion at the Up­per Dublin High School pool.

UDHS alum Andy Gold­stein, vice pres­i­dent of engi­neer­ing for Vide­o­ray, the largest vol­ume pro­ducer of underwater ROVS — or Re­motely Op­er­ated Ve­hi­cles — in the world, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, stood on the pool deck with a com­puter and some con­trols show­ing stu­dents in Richard Sch­midt’s oceanog­ra­phy class how to “fly” the de­vice as it searched the bot­tom of the pool.

“It’s an underwater ro­bot with hu­mans on the sur­face that can be con­trolled by a tether,” said Gold­stein. “They do te­dious, dirty, dan­ger­ous work where you don’t want to put a hu­man.”

“I asked him [Gold­stein] to bring some of his toys so you can see what this equipment is like and what it’s used for,” Sch­midt told his me­te­o­rol­ogy/oceanog­ra­phy stu­dents gath­ered at the pool. “The rea­son” is to show “what’s the real tech­nol­ogy, how it’s be­ing used.”

“The geo­sciences in gen­eral are heav­ily re­liant on tech­nol­ogy since we work in such ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments as space and the bot­tom of the ocean, so I stress the prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of engi­neer­ing and sci­ence with re­gard to re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cles and sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy to my stu­dents all the time,” Sch­midt said prior to the class. In oceanog­ra­phy, A Vide­o­ray re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle. ROVS are used for ev­ery­thing from underwater pho­tog­ra­phy to bathy­met­ric map­ping, “so I al­ways wanted to find a way to get some of that tech into the school.”

The 1990 UDHS grad­u­ate with de­grees in ma­te­ri­als sci­ence and com­puter sci­ence, Gold­stein, a cer­ti­fied scuba diver who lives in Rhode Is­land, de­signed the soft­ware for the ROVS, and was happy to oblige.

“ROVS can be much smaller” than re­motely driven ve­hi­cles and “pro­vide data in real time,” he said. “We use the ve­hi­cle as a way to get the sen­sors in the wa­ter,” Goldtein said, adding some have a lit­tle claw that can grab things.

The com­pany has sold about 5,000 since he started there and has clients all over the world, he said. A lot are used for in­spec­tions for off­shore rigs, in­side pipe­lines, dams, search and res­cue — “peo­ple take snow­mo­biles on the ice, don’t do that” — ship­wrecks, mine counter mea­sures — “hav­ing a ro­bot de­stroyed is way bet­ter than a hu­man,” he said. Uni­ver­si­ties “will buy our ro­bot and take it apart,” for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.

“I didn’t have one of these; it would have been so much bet­ter,” said dis­trict Di­rec­tor of Tech­nol­ogy Philip Vino­gradov, who stopped by to check out the ROVS. A for­mer marine bi­ol­o­gist and ex­treme diver, Vino­gradov had worked tag­ging stur­geons, which, he said, are an en­dan­gered species.

“Vide­o­rays work ev­ery day through­out the world underwater keep­ing us free from ter­ror­ism, find­ing and re­triev­ing ob­jects, in­spect­ing in­fras­truc­ture both in­land and off­shore, and keep­ing divers safe from haz­ardous con­di­tions,” the Pottstown-based com­pany’s web­site (www.vide­o­ray. com) says.

Sch­midt, who donned scuba gear and took some underwater pho­tos of the ROV, climbed out, stat­ing, “Oh yeah. I want one.

“This is what the fu­ture of oceanog­ra­phy is all about,” he said.

Gold­stein said af­ter­ward the com­pany, which works with the U.S. Navy and those of sev­eral other friendly na­tions, is work­ing on de­vices that go deeper, are more pow­er­ful and mod­u­lar.

Sch­midt, not­ing his oceanog­ra­phy course was the first in the state to be ac­cred­ited by a four-year uni­ver­sity, said he “would like to write a grant” for a base­line ROV.

“We’re get­ting ready to start the dive unit,” he said, dur­ing which his stu­dents will get some scuba train­ing. As a cul­mi­nat­ing test, he will cre­ate a ship­wreck at the bot­tom of the pool and the stu­dents, who will re­search five ship­wrecks, will have to iden­tify which one matches the one he cre­ates, he said.

“It looks like play­ing in the wa­ter, and it is, but the stu­dents could be us­ing it some­day; it’s a huge ed­u­ca­tional goal,” Sch­midt said. “This is a job op­tion, which is what you have to em­pha­size with kids this age.

“Com­put­ers, wa­ter robotics, STEM ed­u­ca­tion, it’s all

“They do te­dious, dirty, dan­ger­ous work where you don’t want to put a hu­man.” — Andy Gold­stein, Vide­o­ray vice pres­i­dent of engi­neer­ing

right there.”

Three of his for­mer stu­dents are study­ing marine sciences in col­lege, he said, and one cur­rent student will be go­ing in that di­rec­tion next year.

Se­nior Jenna Johns said she will be at­tend­ing Nova South­east Uni­ver­sity in Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., in the fall, where she will ma­jor in marine sci­ence and swim for the school.

“I want to work in marine mam­mal re­hab,” Johns said, not­ing she will be stay­ing at the high school dur­ing com­mu­nity study to learn scuba div­ing in or­der to get cer­ti­fied next year.

“It’s pretty neat,” she said of the ROV. “I think the school I’m go­ing to has one. To see and learn how it op­er­ates be­fore I get there is amaz­ing.”

“The geo­sciences are not rep­re­sented well in high schools across the coun­try, Sch­midt said. “There’s a rich mar­ket out there for jobs. We’re the first link in the chain to a ca­reer path.”


Geo­sciences teacher Richard Sch­midt dons scuba gear to pho­to­graph the ROV underwater.


Learn­ing to “fly” the ROV.


The Vide­o­ray ro­bot searches the bot­tom of the pool.


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