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Purdue ROV team excels at international competition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University student team earned second place in an international competition to design and build a remotely operated underwater vehicle and perform a simulated mission to cap a leaking offshore oil well.

Purdue ROV Team

A Purdue University student team (right background) prepares to deploy a remotely operated underwater vehicle called Hybris during an international competition at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The team earned second place in the competition, which required students to design and build ROVs to perform a simulated mission to cap a leaking offshore oil well. (Photo/Dylan Baklor)

“We’ve had a phenomenal year,” said Seth Baklor, team captain and a junior in industrial engineering. “Our second-place finish puts Purdue ahead of many top-ranked institutions such as Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Arizona State and teams from Russia, China, India, Egypt, the UK and Canada.”

The team competed in the 10th annual Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s International ROV Competition on June 16-18 at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The challenge this year was to create and deploy an oil cap, collect biological specimens and collect a non-diluted water sample,” said Baklor, who led the Purdue IEEE ROV Team.

The simulated missions were performed at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the world’s largest indoor pool.

“One challenge was that we had to operate the ROV at a depth of 40 feet, which is much deeper than the team had ever encountered,” he said.

The Purdue vehicle, ROV Hybris, was designed to be fast, agile and reliable. The 35-pound, 2-foot-long vehicle featured the largest power-to-weight ratio of any of the other ROVs.

“It’s frame was cut from a single piece of aluminum, and nearly every part was custom machined,” said Baklor, CEO of Aperture Aquatics, the mock company established for the competition. “Every electrical board was custom-made for this vehicle. Even the software and graphical user interface were custom-made.”

The team earned a perfect mission score and also was judged on its technical report, professional presentation and display poster. Students leading the project were Lawrence Goldstein, a mechanical engineering junior; Clement Lan, a senior in electrical and computer engineering; Clayton Kleppinger, a senior in electrical and computer engineering; Danielle Clifford, a senior in professional writing; Robert Swanson, a senior in electrical and computer engineering; Kuan-Po Chen, a senior in electrical and computer engineering; Jason Gary, a junior in computer graphics technology; and Jack McCormack, a sophomore in mechanical engineering.

“Our interdisciplinary team is made up of students from areas including industrial engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, technical writing, and computer graphics technology,” said Baklor, who is from Maitland, Fla.

The ROV has eight thrusters, providing precision maneuverability.

“Having eight thrusters was extremely rare for the competition,” he said. “Only one other team had that many, and they were not using it the way we were using it. Ours was the only vehicle that had full control over every possible direction of thrust. We can pitch, roll, go backward and sideways.”

The students designed their vehicle from the ground up specifically to fulfill the mission, capping a leaking offshore oil well.

“Our cap performed flawlessly,” said Baklor, president of the Purdue student branch of IEEE.

The students will start from scratch again next year, he said.

“Every year we completely shelve the vehicle,” Baklor said. “The reason is that we want to design the vehicle specifically for each mission.”

Baklor said the team is seeking a professor interested in being an active mentor since the team is currently student-run.

Major sponsors were Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, the Purdue Engineering Student Council and the Indiana Space Grant Consortium.

The team also won the Martin Bowen Memorial Award for displaying professionalism and Baklor won an MVP award, as well, for his presentations. Purdue’s team competed against 26 other teams and had placed fifth and fourth in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

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