Robots in the deep end
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
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.