Project Pegasus

February 27 2017

Project Pegasus is a collaborative subtidal research and outreach project, bringing together a team of high school interns and a graduate student mentor. The high school interns will participate in the construction and implementation of an OpenROV v2.8 remotely operated vehicle. Interns will take an active role in building and using the ROV for a suite of projects related to nearshore ecology and bathymetry in Southern California.

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February 27 2017

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Mission Underway

Project Pegasus Part 8 – The Great Plunge


Nearly three months of planning, preparation, and hard work have gone into this fateful day: Pegasus’s first plunge in salt water. From day one, when we opened our kit and started assembling our little ROV, the team has talked of almost nothing else. All of our hopes and aspirations rested on a successful first flight in salt water.

In order to make sure everything went smoothly, we decided to test Pegasus in the shallow and protected waters of Mission Bay. On a cold and overcast Wednesday afternoon Project Pegasus team members set off on one of SDSU’s small boats, with the help of boat-handler extraordinaire (and fellow grad student/Edwards Lab mate) Tristin McHugh. We anchored in a shallow cove and prepared Pegasus for a fateful first dive.

As it turns out, we experienced quite an emotional rollercoaster. All systems were a go; however, as we moved to drop our ROV in the water the camera image seized (much like our previous issue with the lasers). After rebooting the system, we tried again; and just like the first time just as we were about to drop Pegasus in the water the camera froze again. This happened not once, not twice but fives times! After our sixth reboot we decided to go for it…resulting in a flawless 35min dive!

Our first “flight” of Pegasus took us on a tour of the murky water, through seagrass beds and around the boat. We quickly learned the nuances of a successful flight. As it turns out, Pegasus is a little heavy! Our negatively-buoyant ROV requires a lot of thrust to propel it through the water. We even learned what to do in the event of “entanglement” in environmental hazards, such as seagrass!

After three months of I’m delighted to say Project Pegasus is a success. I’m incredibly proud of all of the hard work, dedication, and cohesion displayed by Project Pegasus team members. We all learned a suite of skills along the way, adding new tools to our toolboxes. However, it’s now time to pack up Pegasus in preparation for the Edwards Lab’s second research expedition to the Aleutian Islands.

Stay tuned! There will be plenty of updates from the Aleutians. And when we get back in the Fall Project Pegasus will meet again to discuss a whole host of new projects for Pegasus.

Thanks for following us along this incredible journey!

Cheers,

Baron von Urchin

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Preparation Stage

6/4/17
San Diego, CA

Project Pegasus Part 7 – Testing, Testing 1,2,3!

Sunday, June 4th was a momentous day for Project Pegasus; a lot of time, energy and prep-work went in to our first in-water test. However, before we could submerge our little robot, we first had to do a final bit of soldering. After the team and I installed external light cubes, which will allow Pegasus to shed extra light in the deep dark water, we did one final pre-dive safety check.

Here’s what Project Pegasus intern Maddie had to say: “Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for…putting Pegasus into the test pool! Our team has worked extremely hard to get to this point and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this feat alone. With everyone’s participation and unique skills, the box of various ROV components was soon transformed into a masterpiece that we call Pegasus. Despite the small problems we ran into during the build, Pegasus is definitely a top notch ROV. But we had one more thing to put on before Pegasus was in the water- the light cubes! This entailed hot gluing the two tiny (yet very bright) cubes onto the sides of the structural unit and soldering the wires to the control panel. Afterwards, we moved on to testing out the game controller that we will be using to control the lights, propellers, direction, and camera angle on Pegasus. It was truly amazing to see Pegasus come alive, something our team will never forget. Then came the most exciting moment; water time! We carried the computer, controller, and Pegasus out to the test pool and set everything up, making sure that this exciting event would run smoothly. We were all very nervous because we didn’t want our hard work to result in a flooded or destroyed of Pegasus. Team member, Lorenzo, got the honors of putting Pegasus into the water. Unfortunately, we had to pull it out within a minute because the camera wasn’t working, but we restarted it and put it back in the water. The camera then worked normally; the propellers allowed Pegasus to move, and the team was stoked! We each got a chance at using the game controller and viewing the action through the camera that sends live footage back to the computer. It was very exciting to see our ROV operating underwater! Aside from a few hiccups, everything went well and our team was thrilled!”

What a day indeed! It’s hard to believe that we’ve just wrapped up the construction phase of Project Pegasus. It has been an incredible process; I’m honored to have worked with such a dedicated and committed group of scientists-in-the-making. However, as Maddie said, we’re not out of the woods yet. We’ve got just a little bit more troubleshooting before we can pack little Pegasus up and send it off to the Aleutians!

Stay tuned, next time Pegasus will get its first taste of saltwater!

Cheers,

Baron von Urchin

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Project Pegasus Part 6 – The Great Tangle


We’ve officially reached the end of the modules for the construction of little Pegasus, and the team and I couldn’t be more thrilled! We’ve broken this post into two days because we ran into a little bit of an issue the first time we tried to turn Pegasus on. After charging the high-capacity lithium batteries that give our little ROV the juice it needs to run, we couldn’t get any feedback from the ROV. After a whole lot of head scratching, and a lot of time digging through internet forums, we realized that our batteries weren’t making contact in the battery tubes. After this “ah-ha’ moment all we had to do was solder a little bit of material onto the positive end of each battery so that they make good contact into their tubes. And then, violà! Little Pegasus came to life! But, our trouble shooting issues didn’t stop there.

Here’s what Project Pegasus intern Jordan had to say about these last two days:

“5/24/17 The ROV is very close to completion. We were able to turn the ROV on and we saw the light show that it produced. It was a very cool sight to see, the ROV flashing its lights, especially because I know that we did all of the wiring and soldering in order to make it happen. We did some troubleshooting today with communication back from the ROV. The ROV would turn on but it wouldn’t send us communication back, which was problematic. For the sake of time we decided to move on and email OpenROV™’s [tech support] people about the issue. Next, we placed the O-rings on the battery tubes and the DB25 pin connector to make sure they were water tight. At this point in the construction of the ROV, there were no more directions. Because of this, communication with the team was crucial in order to make any new adaptations to the ROV. We wanted to solder a waterproof quick release to the ROV so that we would be able to disconnect the 100m long tether from the ROV. We were not sure how close to the ROV we wanted to solder the quick release, but we decided together what length we would solder it at.   6/1/17 We had the amazing opportunity to video chat with Ms. Samantha [Wishnak]from the r/v Nautilus crew about their massive ROV called Hercules. She was able to talk to us about her daily life on the research vessel and how her team uses Hercules to obtain scientific data. Talking to her and asking her questions was very enlightening because many of us on our team want to pursue a career in ocean science and possible do exactly what Samantha is doing right now. After the video chat we got to work on finishing the ROV. The first thing we did was try to align and set the lasers on the ROV. There are two red lasers on the front of the ROV right next to the camera. These lasers measure how far away certain objects are from the ROV. This information will be important, along with live visual data from the ROV, to determine how close we want to get to an object underwater. We weren’t able to calibrate the lasers to what the directions wanted. The lasers were actually crossing, so the left laser was creating the right dot 3 meters away, and the right laser was creating the left dot 3 meters away. This is very problematic because that means the lasers are traveling at an angle, so the laser is going to travel further to hit the same object, which will make our measurements inaccurate. We decided to move on and ask the people at OpenROV™. The last thing we did today was a very long and tedious task. We have 100 meters of [tether] cable that came with the ROV, but we want to line all of it in black [expandable PET] webbing to protect the tether. Essentially we needed to feed the 100-meter tether though the black webbing. On top of that the 100-meter cable was very mixed up in the ultimate tangled headphone conundrum. We split off into two teams; one team’s job was to try and untangle the mess of cable, and the other team’s jobs was to feed the cable through the black webbing. We switched off jobs here and there but it ended up taking us nearly two hours. By the end of two hours we had untangled the the monster and made great progress with the feeding of the black mesh. It was a very rewarding moment in the end. Even though this process wasn’t very exciting, like soldering or solvent welding, it was a necessary step to reach our ultimate goal of completing the ROV.”

Well said Jordan! I’m incredibly proud of all of the team members; their dedication and commitment has paid off.

Stay tuned, the next time Project Pegasus meets we’ll be submerging Pegasus for the first time!!! The clock is ticking; the Edwards Lab leaves for Alaska in just over one month!

Cheers,

-Baron von Urchin

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Project Pegasus Part 5 – Bringing it All Together


This week’s module was big milestone; today we finally started assembling the main body of Pegasus. After spending so much time welding acrylic and soldering connections, the team and I were really excited to secure the main body, battery tubes, camera chassis to the outer frame of the ROV. The Edwards Lab was able to purchase an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)/depth sensor combo. This tiny sensor, about the size of a standard Lego™ brick, contains a gyroscope, accelerometer and a depth sensor so we can get real-time measurements of Pegasus’s pitch, roll and depth underwater. All of this meant that we had another tricky set of connections to solder. But, as always, the team members of Project Pegasus rose to the occasion.

Here’s what Aaron has to say:

“Up until today, the ROV was just a bunch of parts and pieces laying. I could feel the energy in the team once every component was set in place to make the ROV look like an actual ROV!

The team completed steps 27 and step 5 on the IMU depth sensor and module. We each had a turn at connecting the IMU which was one heck of an extensive job! In the end we were able to make the IMU and connections look outstandingly amazing.

The next step was getting the battery tubes mounted up by solvent-welding the battery end caps. Everything was smooth sailing until we applied epoxy to the battery end caps [to water-proof them] when we discovered epoxy leaking into the battery tube itself! Luckily we caught this before it was too late [when we submerge Pegasus in the water]”

Aaron makes a good point; as we get toward the end of the build-phase of Pegasus we really can’t afford to make any mistakes. While Pegasus is really coming together, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us before our little ROV can actually jump in the water.

Stay tuned, next time we’ll put the final touches on Pegasus and get ready for our first dive!

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Pegasus Part 4 – Making New Connections


Our module today saw us back at the soldering station, prepping wires and mounting our ROV’s motors. Unfortunately, our team learned a valuable lesson early on today: always come prepared with the right tools. Due to a lack of wire strippers (forgotten by yours truly), we quickly had to improvise; we had to find a way of stripping the rubber insulation off of the wires without cutting the wire itself. This proved to be no easy feat, but I am proud to say that the team held it together with grace and patience and at the end of the day everything worked out.

Here’s what team member Lorenzo had to say:

“Today is the day we finally get to put together the wire routing and motors for Pegasus (our ROV). It was a very exciting build because we were able to attach the motors with propellers to the main body. There are three motors on the ROV; port and starboard (left and right) motors drive the propellers which give the ROV directional thrust. The third motor provides vertical thrust. Once we finished prepping the motor we soon began working on the wiring of Pegasus itself by soldering some of the main wires that were color coded to match the motor wires. To do this we striped the appropriate wires from the DB-25 connector and the motor wires. There are three wires for the motor which means we had to solder three connections per motor! The soldering today was a major challenge as we had to figure out how to strip the wires without wire cutters and to wrap the exposed wire to the exposed wire. To make the soldered wires protected we melted plastic tubing (called heat shrink) on to it as any exposed wire is dangerous and must be covered by something that doesn’t conduct electricity. Wire routing was also a challenge as we had to figure out what wires go in what direction and should be attached at which point to the inner frame of Pegasus. We used zip ties to clearly organize the wires, which will make the inner components of the ROV run more smoothly. Even though we made a few mistakes along the way, we learned from them and it all worked out in the end.

This module brought the team closer together; solving tough challenges when things go wrong and learning from them is all part of the process when working on a project like this one. I am very happy, each day brings new exciting challenges and builds as we are almost finished building our ROV. In the end, the experiences and a chance to help others with what we are doing is the important part of all as this and soon we’ll be able to fly Pegasus in the ocean.”

Well said Lorenzo! We’re just a few more build-days away from completing the construction of Pegasus! At this point soldering, acrylic welding and cooperation are second nature to Project Pegasus interns, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Be sure to check back in as we work towards getting Pegasus built and in the water!

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Project Pegasus: Part 3 – A Soldering Situation


Today is the big day as it marks our team’s first attempt at soldering! While most of the OpenROV™ instructions up to this point called for acrylic solvent welding to make the internal structures of our ROV, the assembly of the electronics requires a technical approach. After all, the electronic components are really the hallmark of our ROV. We need to be able to communicate with and control our vehicle, as well as capture video from the camera. We’ll also be adding extra components to our ROV, such as external lights and sensors, all of which will be wired to the main circuit board.

Here’s Maddie’s take on today’s build:

“As our first official experience with soldering, Module 3 was a challenging yet successful step towards the completion of Pegasus. Today’s build began with assembling circuit boards as well as the top-side communication box. This required our team to pay close attention to detail when connecting wires and pins. Our next steps involved soldering the wires that control video and power connection to the camera board. Soldering is a process in which a bond is formed between two or more metal components by melting and putting a filler metal (solder) into the joint. We applied solder to the soldering iron, and then used the “tinned” iron to form a bond with the wires and the board. Each of us got a turn and were very successful considering it was our first attempt. The most challenging aspect of soldering is that you are working with an extremely hot piece of equipment in a very tight space with little room for error. After this was completed, we assembled the camera mount which entailed connecting wires in a precise orientation on the camera board and main control panel. The camera board is situated within a structural unit that will allow the angle of the camera to be changed with the help of the “servo”. Today was a complex build, but we were able to complete Module 3.

In this module, our team continued to build teamwork skills which are critical to the completion of Pegasus. We learned that working together to analyze the instructions is key to avoiding mistakes. Due to our collaboration, we even found a few errors and misrepresentations in the instructions. As the saying goes, “teamwork is dream work” and we are working hard to accomplish our goals!”

Well said Maddie, well said. Be sure to stay tuned, we’ve only got two more modules to go until we’re ready to start testing Pegasus!

Cheers,

Project Pegasus.

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After completing our first of five modules, we were ready to get back to work on Pegasus. The second set of instructions saw us using acrylic cement again to solvent-weld some of the internal structures of our ROV together. However, the stakes were a lot higher this time. At a certain point, we’re going to have to start building and using the electronic components of our ROV. After all, the propose of building Pegasus is to gather invaluable data, which includes real-time video from our upcoming dives. For this build we had to saw off the end of a syringe (for use later on), solvent-weld more acrylic, and super glue the DB-25 connector in to place, which is a major connection point for the electronic components.


Here’s what Project Pegasus intern Jordan Schultz had to say about today’s build:

“We were still using solvent welding to cement the plastic structural pieces together. We made sure to measure at least five times before we did any cementing of the acrylic in order to ensure no errors would occur. Everyone on the team got a turn with the dropper of acrylic solvent, however, we have noticed that it is difficult to control the speed at which the solvent comes out of the dropper. Because of this, we had to be very careful when applying the solvent, especially because it will cement the plastic together in a matter of seconds. We had a few incidents where the water-like substance poured out of the dropper, which lead to gloves being taken off and hands rapidly being washed. Nevertheless, we were able to cement the acrylic together efficiently. An important lesson we learned today was that preparation is key to being successful. If we all show up ready to build but we do not have the proper tools, little can be done. Thus moving forward, it is essential that we plan and prepare ahead of time in order to make certain that we are diligent and productive with our time.”

After it was all said and done, we had to apply fast-setting epoxy to water-proof some of the components from this week’s module and last week’s as well. Looking at the individual pieces, it’s hard to believe that after three more modules we’ll be submerging our very own ROV in the ocean!

Be sure to stay tuned, next time the team and I will learn all about soldering!

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It's been a month since this project has started, and in the interim, as part of this internship, the team members are each responsible for drafting grant proposals centered around ROV-related projects. I’m really proud of the team’s creativity, so be sure to check back in for updates as we move forward.


However, as of March 21s, we’re finally getting started with the actually construction of our ROV! I'm pleased to announce that our OpenROV v2.8 kit has finally arrived. We've begun working on the first construction module; the team and I learned a lot about acrylic and solvent welding. For example, you don’t technically glue acrylic, you use a solvent to weld pieces together. Along the way my interns and I will be learning how to solder, work with circuit boards, and trouble-shoot any and all issues related to the construction and deployment of an ROV. And the clock is already ticking! We’ve got just a few short months before the Edwards Lab takes off for our last Aleutians cruise, and we’ve already got big plans for little Pegasus.

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Expedition Background

In 2017 a group of high school interns from the La Jolla Windansea Surf Club and a graduate student from San Diego State University teamed up to tackle research questions related to the nearshore ecology and bathymetry of Southern California.


The traditional marine ecology approach to studying nearshore systems relies heavily on field experiments and manipulations, often times restricting data gathering to those who are scientific-SCUBA certified. Likewise, physical data in the marine environment can be costly to gather and record. At the core of these two disciplines is a desire to understand the marine environment that is both holistic and inclusive. Therefore, OpenROV is the perfect platform; interns will assist with data gathering in a safe yet applicable way without needing formal subtidal experience.

Throughout this internship experience the high school team will help draft grant applications, blog posts and outreach statements as well as strengthening their college applications.

The use of a remotely operated vehicle is the perfect tool for a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding our coastal oceans, as well as engaging with the general public.

This sounds great! Excited to follow along. This idea is key:


"assist with data gathering in a safe yet applicable way without needing formal subtidal experience"

If you develop a method and curriculum for this, it has applications for citizen scientists as well as students.