AEGIR: The Viking ROV

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 12:30 -- bbutt

Good things do happen.  They happen when you least expect it and in ways that are organic.  In the case of my first extracurricular robotics team: WE BUILT A FREAKIN´ ROV!  Now, to some that may not seem too exciting, but to my students and I, it was the culmination of a lot of thinking, designing, creating, rethinking, redesigning, and rebuilding over and over and over.  Through engineering 101, this group of four young men and one young lady, came together in a way I have rarely seen.  Each bringing a skill set and unique character to the remote operated vehicle (ROV) team. A team that would compete against giants.  

At first I was not certain the interest was there.  They loved learning skills like soldering and glueing and shrink wrapping, but the classroom part seemed to bore them. At one point I forsake the traditional seminar approach to buoyancy and said to one boy to go make the ROV neutrally buoyant; and he did.  Letting go of the reins yet facilitating meetings and timelines made more sense for my group.  They were inherently creative, scholarly young men and women.  Why was I going to get in their way?  So I maintained a degree of separation, close enough to monitor for safety concerns and ask critical questions but far enough to let them make decisions that would lead to the frame design, motor alignments, shroud coverings, and tool development.  Heck they even went out of their way to paint the ROV a darker shade of red.  A bloody good time was had by all.

To be fair, the support my group enjoyed, other than myself, included the MATE (marine advanced technology education) website and over $700 in tools, books, and kits that helped them to solve problems and determine what systems they were required to develop.  YouTube videos of other teams and those posted by MATE, of the international ROV competition, provided food for thought and some insight into how the ROV should operate.  These young people, as young as 13 and as old as 16, became engaged through their own research and some trial and error.  One boy took on the responsibility of being the 3D printer guru, another ensured that the team was working in sync with what needed to be done, and another took it upon himself to find the appropriate ROV name: AEGIR; Norse god of the sea; feared by other Norse gods, sailers and the like.  Awesome.

Our first trip to the local pool was interesting.  Learning to drive an ROV using toggle switches proved to be...difficult.  One would think that pushing buttons is fairly easy.  Try it while viewing the underwater environment through a 6" screen.  Craning their necks and positioning themselves away from the overhead lights; bent over like trees in a hurricane.  Indeed the winds of providence played havoc with our only session with the NSCC judge, when he exclaimed that we had ten (10) minutes to complete all tasks...ugg.  Needless to say the team did their best but after a while it was evident that some tasks were more insurmountable than others.  Next year Mr. Butt.  Next year.  A litany of ideas for improvement came boiling to the surface.  Expensive ideas.  Enthusiastic, expensive ideas.

Good things even happen when events occur that might dictate otherwise.  Despite the NSTU "work to rule" edict (which I wholeheartedly supported) and the resulting loss of three months worth of work, this first ever BJSHS (Bridgewater Jr./Sr. High School) after school ROV robotics group, came together to complete what we had started in September.  The hiatus had been difficult, and we did lose a couple of members of the team.  However those who returned, still fanning the embers of interest, brought a renewed focus and energy to the program.  The slimmer team meant more hats for some to wear.  It meant more responsibility.

Giants come in all shapes and sizes.  The giants my Viking Robotics team faced were intelligent, engineers to be, of differing ethnicities, and skill sets, living within the Halifax Municipality.  Four established robotics teams, with years of experience and accumulated materials with which to work. Teams sponsored by the Engineering Society of Nova Scotia, a Microsoft subsidary, Blue Robotics, etc.  Teams with matching shirts, divided into mini-teams specializing in their own unique systems.  With a budget of under $1000 our Viking Robotics team competed with teams developing $5000+ ROVs that utilized next level software, coding, and hardware.  Our own version of the movie "Karate Kid" played out in front of our eyes.

We did not win this year; but we did give the judges the proper answers to their questions.  We showed our enthusiasm and interest and intelligence. My students know their stuff.  They are observant and competitive.  After the experience we shared, our team will only get better.  

In hindsight, perhaps we should have gone with a biblical name. There is always next year...




Day 3 MATE ROV workshop reflection

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 14:02 -- bbutt

Todays lessons were quite involved with the electrical components.  We started with circuit board construction, soldering components unto the circuit board, SIDs, creating our own underwater ROV camera from the off the shelf back up camera meant for a car, use of epoxy and acrylic to glue and seal components into an acrylic tube, and then unto basics of hydrolics using syringes and test tubes in making an underwater tool to pick up items.  We also built our own power cords and attached them to the circuit boxes, soldered the fuse holder to the power cord, and learnt how to use the Anderson Power Pole crimper.  A lot of education, at a fast pace of execution but with time built in for hands on practice.  I learnt alot today.  Quite proud of how the ROV is shaping up!

MATE ROV Workshop Day 2 Reflection

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 14:34 -- bbutt

Day 2 Today we started by reviewing our company name, ROV name and tagline: East Coast Robotics, Gulf Streamer, "Ride the Current".  My group partner is a Jane, a wonderfully experienced educator from Florida.  Our schedules were redeveloped to include "dependencies" and methods of generating the schedules were shared by each group.  We had used Google Calendar...the only group to do so. The remaining topics included - Multimeters:  symbols, use of, units- Batteries must be in a case at the side of the pool to provide impact protection.  Gel batteries are better than liquid, though an absorbed glass mat battery is best.  A marine battery is a good choice as it can be recharged multiple times once emptied.  Lead acid batteries do not recharge as well.- Simple Circuits:  drawiing circuits, symbols, closed vs open, short circuits, Ohms Law, Series vs Parallel, resistance, LED lights are max of 3 volts and 20 mA, wire gauge, Watts Law, Power.- use of water analogies to electricity.  - switches:  different types, activity on making your own homemade switch- motors:  how they work- Soldering: How to use (ie keep your tip "dirty" with solder...called tinning), waterproofing solder joints with hot glue and shrink wrap.We ended at 5:30 pm.  

MATE ROV Workshop Day 1 Reflection

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 11:08 -- bbutt

Day one has come and gone. I've met many new people from the United States. In total, 20 individuals are attending this workshop. 10 men and 10 women. We come from the diversity of cultures and locations but have one thing in common, a strong interest in constructivist education. At the workshop we have had a chance to create our first underwater ROV robot. We have discussed the process of designn and have discussed how to organize and schedule teams of students, how to work with groups of individuals, and some of the tools and process necessary in the creation of these devices. The majority of the afternoon was looking at the design and creation of the frame. It was a lot of fun. Working groups of two we were to design a frame, choose thruster configurations, measure and cut PVC pipe and put together a rough draft of our ROV. My partner Jane is an experienced Chemistry teacher from Florida. Like many I have spoken to, she is looking at teaching ROV robotics as a possible way to extend her career. The high level of interest from students fuels the educator in her.

Underwater ROV Robotics Coming to the Viking Commons

Fri, 03/04/2016 - 14:35 -- bbutt


As educators we are always looking to keep our students at the forefront of changes to information and technology.  It is a challenging and often time consuming affair, but once in a while we catch a break and opportunities are brought to us.  Its the social media convention - why search for information when the convenience of having the information come to you exists.  

One of the many opportunities that the Brilliant Labs organization provides to the teachers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, are those connections to community groups and educators involved in new and exciting activities.  This clearinghouse of informed support has provided us with more than one opportunity to connect with novel enterprises.  

Mike Duggan (NSCC, Institute of Technology Campus), is one of those contacts.  He is keen on helping schools work towards developing capacity to house an underwater robotics team.  He approached us after introductions were made by Sarah Ryan of Brilliant Labs.  Mike discussed the opportunity of getting a robot up and running for the spring competition to be held at Survival Systems, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on April 22, 2016.  We will attend with a group of interested high school students with the hope of learning what is expected and picking up tips and tricks to implement in our own program.  The MATE ROV program ( is an international underwater robotics competition held regionally in Nova Scotia with an opportunity for students to move on to the international competitions held in various places in the USA and Canada.  Students are tasked with completing a series of activities using a robot they have built and programmed at school.  Levels of competition exist.  Our high school team would compete at the Ranger class while upper elementary and junior high may start at the Scout or Navigator class of competition.  

Check out the MATE website!