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Underwater Colorado

May 9 2015
Colorado has unique marine ecosystems and flooded ghost towns. Through a partnership with South Jeffco Robotics, we'll expand the OpenROV's capabilities to explore them all - even (and especially) the really hard-to-reach locations.

May 9 2015


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Name: William Schmidt
Account ID: 405826939

Preparation Stage

The ROV team began work on the backpack to bring the ROV to and from the mountain.
The boat team finished putting fiberglass matt on to the pieces of foam for the boat.
The propulsion team got new motor drivers and tested the motor drivers to power the boat. The land winch team finished the prototype and began the final design.

This week Tyler H began to build the finally boat to deploy the ROV. While Evan Desmond began to build the winch from land to pull in the ROV when we are done with the expedition. Mark Gilliland began the propulsion system to go on the boat and go out in the middle of a lake or body of water to deploy the ROV.

Weeks one through five of the Open ROV project have been very successful thus far. Breaking off into teams, we divided up into several groups which included the winch, flotation system, propulsion system, and programming.

Beginning with the winch system, weeks one through five made steady progress. A finalized idea and plan was set up which included the decisions of: the winch being in four parts, two halves for each side, the winch having a PVC piece in the middle for the string to wrap around the center (a major technical decision), the motor going into the back side of the winch and being held in place by a motor key, and finally the structural decision that the entire winch system would be 3D printed. There were some setbacks to this process however, one being looking for the motor itself, and two was piecing together both sides to test the winch. Both of these issues were resolved in the end making our short term goals a success. The future goals for the winch portion of the Open ROV challenge have been compressed into three major items: to 3D print the final design, to put the two halves together (for testing), and finally to test the winch mechanism itself.

Next category for this project is the flotation system. The major accomplishments for this system were the applying of the fiberglass sealant, and the modifying of the PVC in order to use carbon fiber shafts (for structural integrity). These two accomplishments for these five weeks were extremely crucial to this project under the regards that it is necessary for the system in its entirety to float; therefore making these two successes a key part in the progressing of the Open ROV project. We also set some future goals for the flotation system including the integration of the winch into the flotation system, creating PVC corners to hold up the structural shafts, and address the integration of the propulsion system which is under planning.

In addition to the propulsion system being under planning, the programming under is design and review while we wait for the mechanical side of this project to reach completion. Overall, the first five weeks of the Open ROV project have been vital steps toward our final product.

We also apologize for the delay in reports, and are planning on moving towards a more formal schedule system. Thank you for your patience and support while we continue our progress throughout this project.


Interesting! I can't wait to see this come together!

I can't wait to see how it works. My team and I have talked about the idea of being able to setup an ROV to live in a protected buoy anchored in the bay, and remotely launched & controlled from a base. Something like this would make research of an area in the bay more easily achieved.

After extensive discussion, the team has decided to go for the second design, and we're planning on having a first working prototype by Christmas! In case you're interested, here are the notes that were taken as we did a pro/con analysis of both designs...

Design 1: (Inner Tube)
Floats Well
Air Leaks
Directional Steering
Sharp Rocks
Flimsy Structure
Have to inflate tube
Drag Difference
Position Holding
River Raft Tube
Light Weight Materials
Waterproofing Electronics (Pelican Case)
Design 2: (Surfboard/ Body Board)
Cuts Through The Water
Carry In/ Carry Out
Less Drag
No Holes
Structurally Sound
Possible Stability Issues

Construction and integration gets started with the unboxing of our OpenROV this coming Thursday - we'll keep you posted!

Apologies for the gap between posts... it's been a busy couple of weeks. For example, we just found out that our student team has been awarded a slot on the upcoming Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. That's right - designing an experiment to be run on the International Space Station! But that's an entirely different expedition...
Here's the second design that we came up with during our ideation phase for how to accomplish the goals set forth by the Underwater Colorado project. It's essentially a split surfboard (but smaller), and it's collapsible down to backpackable size, with the major subsystems modularly removable from the mechanical superstructure. Basically, one person would carry the system pods, and the other would carry the deployment surfboard. The use of carbon fiber spars for rigidity and aluminum bracket (like 80/20, but smaller) for the A-frame helps to keep the weight down.
This design is more mechanically complex than the first one, but also isn't susceptible to leaks and doesn't require a separate pump to be carried around (and you really don't want to try to inflate an inner tube without a pump at the altitudes that we'll be working). Our next team meeting is this coming Thursday, and we'll be doing a full pros/cons analysis between these two designs. But we don't want to do it ourselves... let us know what you think in the comments!


This is so, so great! We talk about something like this all the time. Excited to see you guys build it!

Thanks - we're really excited to build and share it! From what you can see so far, do you have thoughts on either proposed design?

It's been a big week for the Underwater Colorado team! The school that hosts the robotics team - Dakota Ridge High School - featured a link to the project on the school's home page! Here's the link, but we don't know how long the project will be up:

Also, during our meeting we discussed some cursory systems requirements. There's still some refining to be done, for sure, but this list provides a clearer picture of what we're thinking about. Of course, this isn't just us telling everyone how it's going to be... if you have thoughts, comments, or suggestions, please share in the comments!

The system should be able to float its own weight and the weight of the ROV
The system should be able to deploy and recover the ROV without the use of the ROV's thrusters (e.g. a load-bearing tether and winch)
The system should be able to recover and retain the ROV to above the surface of the water
The system should be able to propel itself over the surface of the water (move)
The system should be able to maneuver over the surface of the water (navigate)
The system should be transportable (backpackable) by 1 or 2 people over a distance of 2 miles (may involve collapsing or quick-disconnecting subassemblies)
The system should protect sensitive components and equipment from accidental water exposure ("splash-proof")

The system should have enough power to sustain 1.5 hours of operation (note: power budgets, especially for motor duty cycles will need to be performed to define this requirement)
The system should monitor its battery level and provide warning of levels requiring recovery of the ROV and return to launch point

The system should provide its GPS location and time for all operations
The system should provide the approximate depth of the ROV (or deployed tether length)
The system should provide environmental information (temperature, water temperature, wind, luminance, etc
The system should provide first-person views from onboard camera(s) - forward and ROV bay, at a minimum
Bonus: the system should auto-tension and auto-center over the ROV tether to avoid tether tangles

The system should allow the operator(s) to command the platform to move and maneuver on the water (minimum forwards, backwards, yaw left+right)
The system should allow the operator(s) to command the deployment and recovery of the ROV
The system should allow the operator(s) direct access to the ROV control system
The system should allow for system health and status to be monitored during operations
The system should allow for wireless operation of all functions (probably WiFi)
Bonus: the system should have a redundant wireless communications link for emergency recovery (recover ROV and return to shore)

The ROV should be modified to measure O2 saturation
The ROV should be modified to measure turbidity
The ROV should be modified to measure pH
The ROV should be modified to measure salinity / mineral content
The ROV should be modified to carry a baited boom for species surveys

In case that's not enough of a picture for you, we've also included a rough sketch of one of our designs, intended to be strapped to a large inner tube.

Another meeting is coming up this week, and we'll have more information on some of the sensor designs and subsystems that we're planning.


Wow this is an amazing plan! I am absolutely over the moon excited to follow developments!

I notice one of your plans is sustain 1.5 hours of operation. I've noticed pretty dramatic differences in battery life based on where I was operating. In the Caribbean I had two hours easy, in the Arctic only about 19 minutes of functional life. What's your range of water temps over the year?

Thanks - we're pretty excited about the project, too!
There are a couple of different answers to your question. First off, keep in mind that the requirements are for the remote deployment system only, so the 1.5 hour battery life is for the platform, and is intended to provide a 50% margin over the longest mission profile for the ROV. The temperatures that the batteries in question would experience is more the air temperature, which will be cooled some by the proximity to the water, but can be generally taken as ambient (15-20C). We're planning on running batteries rated to at least -20C, though.
As far as water temperature, these lakes are fed primarily via meltwater, so the temperature is a pretty consistently frigid, usually just above 0C. Probably not as cold as saltwater in the artic, but definitely on the battery-life-reducing side of the temperature scale.

The first team meeting of the robotics club for the '14-'15 school year happened within 3 days of school starting, and we still had about 20 students show up! Experience indicates that attendance will grow over the next couple of weeks.
There was an abundance of enthusiasm as we discussed the initial requirements and some of the engineering and science challenges that would come with the project. Also, the faculty sponsor for the team, Bill Schmidt, made the outstanding point that by open-sourcing all of the designs and results, people around the world could copy the experiments and compare the results. Imagine citizen science enabling direct comparison of alpine lake ecosystems in Colorado with those in the Andes or the Alps!
The next meeting is this week, and we'll be working to finalize the preliminary requirements for the system and begin the process of decomposing the requirements into subsystems. In parallel, we're starting the process of working with marine biologists to do the experimental design for the mission, and have made progress on the collaboration front.
Everyone involved is genuinely excited about the cross-disciplinary nature of this project, and about the opportunity to contribute to the OpenROV project!


I love this! I get super excited thinking about the amazing peer exchanges which will come from openly sharing! May even call for a field trip to the alps :)

Just a quick heads up... the first team meeting will be this coming week (now that school is back in session). Far more details will be available: info about the students, teachers, and volunteer mentors that will be involved will all be coming out of that meeting. Look for an update soon!

Wish I was in CO for this meeting! Certain to be a fun brainstorming session.

Expedition Background

Underwater towns and mines are very cool, as are the isolated ecosystems found in alpine lakes. Colorado has both in abundance, and in many cases it's simply impossible to get a boat or even scuba gear to the location. The capabilities of the OpenROV will need to be expanded to meet these extreme conditions. Why? Because we won't be able to run the OpenROV from a boat, and we can't risk damaging or tangling the tether on the rocks that dominate the shores of these lakes and reservoirs.
Fortunately, we're just the team to do this, through the combination of deep experience and educational engagement.
EDGE Research Lab, a team of engineers and scientists focused on extreme research, and South Jeffco Robotics, a team of talented highschool robotics fanatics (some of whom are seen below at one of our engineering field exercises), have been partners for three years, and in that time have tackled the research, design, engineering, and integration necessary to make new systems survive harsh conditions. Two new mechatronic systems and one new sensor system later - entirely designed and integrated by the 40 students on the team, we might add - and we're ready to tackle the next challenge: a remote-controlled surface vessel to provide OpenROV with an unmanned deployment platform, perfect for the kinds of work that we want to do.
Along the way to the really remote places, we'll be honing our skills and testing our systems at some of the well-known (and not-so-well-known) towns that have been submerged by reservoirs in Colorado, like Dillon (Dillon Reservoir), Pikes Peak City (Chatfield Reservoir), and Sopris (Trinidad Lake). We'll also be pursuing partnerships with organizations in the area that will amplify the work that we're doing even more. We have the contacts, but are waiting until we have things finalized to make them public.
Finally, everything that we do on this project - the successes, failures, and any new systems or plans or instructions or lessons will be made entirely open source, immediately. It's a great way to encourage the discipline of documentation in the budding engineers and scientists on the team, and an important way to give back.
So stay tuned!


This is so cool! I can't wait to see video and/or sample data. OpenROV will be perfect for this scenario.

I agree! What a great new platform for the students.