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Champlain Research and Exploration in Water (C.R.E.W.)

June 24 2015
The Lake CREW will be offering a series of free summer workshops to build Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) to explore the depths of Lake Champlain. Rich in natural and cultural resources, Lake Champlain played a pivotal role in the formation of the United States. Over the past century however, settlement along her waters and within the Champlain Valley watershed has endangered her delicate ecosystem and introduced an invasive species in the late 1990’s that threaten the historical artifacts that lie below. Lake Champlain can reach depths of over 400 feet and up until the OpenROV project, was mostly inaccessible to citizen exploration. Our region in NY has a resource of young students eager to learn about underwater sciences and technology but lacks any program that provides hands on education in underwater robotics with a mission of purpose and stewardship of the lake. Our goal is to create a CREW of students and community members that continues on beyond the summer workshops. To build a team that will understand the technology of the ROV and be capable of augmenting it based on mission criteria. We will dive on the historic wrecks from the American Revolution to the great steamship era to provide photographic and video graphic documentation to share with the world. We will work with local watershed organizations in their efforts to preserve the lakes ecosystem by measuring water quality and quantifying invasive species in their habitats.

June 24 2015


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Preparation Stage

Captains Log:

Two build days left. We had our first powered Triggerfish launch with video last Friday, after a little rework to get the motors coordinated to the joystick controls and clean-up of the potentiometer connections.

Our first underwater video was a little murky in light choppy water in about 5-10 knots of wind. We did observe the legs of some of the CREW hovering over the Triggerfish as she surged forward to deeper waters. We were able to submerge, surge, and yaw but the conditions proved to be stronger than our ROV to test sway, pitch, and roll. Overall the Triggerfish needs to be faster and less buoyant. Our power source was weak from a few hours of bench testing so perhaps after lowering the buoyance and a fresh charge we may do better next Wednesday.

Our deep dive micro ROV may make it into the water within our allotted build time. The build has been more serially than I was anticipating as its construction is more integrated then the Triggerfish. We wanted to get an early start with the software by connecting with the Beaglebone to bring up the cockpit and video early on but could not easily determine how to power up and connect on the benchtop. We decided it would be safer and faster to follow the guides in order, at least for this build. Most of the work is completed. All that is left to get us to water testing:
• stuffing the electronics in the forward tube and vacuum testing
• finishing the battery tubes
• final assembly
• tether reel assembly

Before we can go deep we will need to program a recovery procedure if we lose the tether and come up with a way to sense orientation and depth. Since the IMU sensor from OpenROV is not currently available and a bit over our budget we may want to build our own or temporarily mount a dive watch we can see in the camera. Jones’ Aqua Sports has offered to help us here and meet with us during one of our build sessions.

After getting the ROV’s together we will continue on into August with underwater exploration. Starting off in the shallows but continuing on into the deep as we co-ordinate dive missions.


During the second week, the CREW was able to get the motors and camera mounted and wired through the frame. The team was also able to complete the first round of testing from the power source to each motor, as well as the camera, using the wiring provided by the tether. Good job to all of the teams for a successful week!


Nice work!

Looks great! Interested to see how the builds turn out!

Here is one of our CREW members journaling his team's progress and I was able to also take a snapshot of what he documented that day. Great journal entry!


By the end of our first week, Mark and I were impressed by what the teams were able to accomplish. The younger frame team completed their build and the frame was ready for the motors to be mounted. The propulsion team had completed the motors with custom mounted protective cages built from pvc pipe drain. The camera crew worked on soldering the wiring and preparing it for the power source to ensure the proper voltage. The older controller team completed their task in the triggerfish controllers and began work on the next ROV.


Finally able to make some additional posts here. Thank you to everyone contributing these great photos documenting what these kids are accomplishing. Here are some more pictures of the teams working during the first week. You can see the propulsion team finishing up the motors and camera team out near the lake working on organizing the wiring and preparing the tether.


On Wednesday afternoon, our CREW of 20 kids ranging from 6 to 18 years collected together alongside the beautiful lake anxiously awaiting to hear what assignment they may have in this exciting project. After briefly describing our first Open ROV project and what we hoped to accomplish, Mark challenged our CREW to separate themselves into 5 groups, each having a specific task to contribute to the build of the MATE Triggerfish ROV. After digesting the information and organizing their groups, these kids took on the challenge and started in. On the first day, the frame crew had measured and cut all of the main PVC piping, the propolsion team had assembled all of the motors, and the controls, sensors and tether groups were well on their way. I was impressed by what these kids had accomplished in 2 hours and appreciated the supervision of the parents who stayed to help.


Wow - sounds like a lot of fun! Have the ROVs gone in the water yet?

Expedition Background

Lake Champlain is rich in natural and cultural resources. Stretching 120 miles and linking the Richelieu and St Lawrence rivers to the Hudson, Champlain was the most important passage for commerce and travel during America’s colonial era into the first half century of the United States. Control of the lake was vital to the formation of United States and she played a pivotal role in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. Beneath her waters lies historical record of human progress from early Native American settlements through present day. The historic shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake constitute one of the largest intact collections in North America. In addition to these wrecks, there also exists an unknown number of submerged structures and artifacts from Native American and early Colonial settlement.

Champlain’s waters provide a drinking source for nearly 200,000 people along her shores and habitat for countless species of fish and wildlife. Champlain supports a vibrant tourism industry for fishing, hunting, swimming, and boating. Postindustrial settlement along the lake and surrounding valley during the 20th century however, has born challenges to the lakes delicate ecosystem which threaten the quality of the fresh water that has both preserved antiquity and served the livelihood of man and wildlife. Our mission will be threefold: to find and document the cultural artifacts before they are lost to invasive species of mussels, to work with watershed groups to help preserve the ecology of the lake, and to learn about the science and technologies we can use to build the tools we will need to accomplish our missions.

We plan to build two ROV’s, one powered from the surface with a pulse wave modulation guidance system using the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) TriggerFish kit and a second powered internally with a micro-computer guidance system using the OpenROV kit. Both ROV’s will be outfitted with underwater cameras. We will break up the builds into functional groups consisting of 3-5 member teams, with team leaders chosen based on knowledge and skill level. Participants will learn about basic electronic circuits, soldering, Archimedes’ principle, propulsion, challenges involved in underwater design, acrylic welding, and an overview of micro-computers, software programming and the pros and cons between the two ROV designs. After building the ROV’s, we will train off the docks to build piloting and tether management skills then coordinate dive missions. During the workshop, we will also discuss the MATE and the SeaPerch underwater robotics programs and competitions. If the class hasn’t burned out by this time we can explore the possibilities of future missions and developing teams for MATE and SeaPerch competition.

The workshops will be held lakeside in Willsboro NY. Space is limited, so interested participants should register early. Older children are encouraged to share your interests in the RSVP to help me find the right team to start you on and the direction of our initial missions. Participants should be at least seven years or older although younger children are welcome with parent participation. Sessions will run for 2 hours with swim time and water fun after some serious learning.


Excited to follow along!

Thanks for your encouragement David. OpenExplorer and OpenROV are just awesome ideas. With the concept you and Eric pioneered here we are reaching a broad spectrum of creative people and are starting to generate allot of interest. We'll keep you posted!