Freshmen Engineering Students Build Underwater Robotic Vehicles

Engineering majors maneuver underwater ROVs through an obstacle course.

Engineering majors maneuver underwater ROVs through an obstacle course.

On a cold, snowy morning this month, some 30 first-year engineering students gathered around an above-ground pool on campus to test the underwater remotely operated vehicles they built.

The project, incorporated into the freshmen curriculum for the first time this year, gave the engineering students a taste of the real-world duties of an engineer from their very first semester at PhilaU.

“It’s what engineering is all about—being hands-on and thinking outside of the box,” said student Ucheoma Ibegbulem. “I really enjoyed the project.”

The students in Engineering 101: Introduction to Engineering were required to research, design, assemble and maneuver a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, through an underwater obstacle course in a timed race, which took place Dec. 11.

“Working with tools, soldering and building the ROVs ourselves was cool,” student Noah Coralnick said.

He and his partner, Ajay Cease, finished the obstacle course with one of the fastest times. “We’re pretty excited about that,” Cease said. “In the last week, we experienced a wire break and had to test and fix each motor.”

In the course, students learn the basics of industrial, textile, composite and architectural engineering, and then apply that knowledge by making the submersible prototypes.

Matthew Traum, director of PhilaU’s engineering programs, who co-taught the course, said, “Engineering 101 by its nature is a multidisciplinary, hands-on experience for students. What this project lets us do is allow them to get the hands-on experience that they need to advance through the curriculum.”

Students created business plans and completed detailed engineering calculations to simulate the work they would have to do if, for instance, they were seeking a contract from the U.S. Navy to build submarines. “They needed to demonstrate that their particular design would perform well, and that it could be constructed,” Traum said.

In terms of measuring performance on that chilly morning, student Devin Glover said the key to successfully steering the vehicle through the water was “controlling the buoyancy and making sure the wires don’t get tangled.”

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