La Vida Robot

Posted on May 9, 2005  Comments (0)

La Vida Robot – Wired article on the Carl Hayden High School (from Phoenix) that competed with the top college teams in an engineering competition. Great Stuff.

Tom Swean was the gruff 58-year-old head of the Navy’s Ocean Engineering and Marine Systems program. He developed million-dollar autonomous underwater robots for the SEALs at the Office of Naval Research. He was not used to dealing with Mexican-American teenagers sporting gold chains, fake diamond rings, and patchy, adolescent mustaches.

The Carl Hayden team stood nervously in front of him. He stared sullenly at them. This was the engineering review – professionals in underwater engineering evaluated all the ROVs, scored each team’s technical documentation, and grilled students about their designs. The results counted for more than half of the total possible points in the contest.

“How’d you make the laser range finder work?” Swean growled. MIT had admitted earlier that a laser would have been the most accurate way to measure distance underwater, but they’d concluded that it would have been difficult to implement.

“We used a helium neon laser, captured its phase shift with a photo sensor, and manually corrected by 30 percent to account for the index of refraction,” Cristian answered rapidly, keyed up on adrenaline. Cameron had peppered them with questions on the drive to Santa Barbara, and Cristian was ready.

Swean raised a bushy, graying eyebrow. He asked about motor speed, and Lorenzo sketched out their combination of controllers and spike relays. Oscar answered the question about signal interference in the tether by describing how they’d experimented with a 15-meter cable before jumping up to one that was 33 meters.

“You’re very comfortable with the metric system,” Swean observed.

“I grew up in Mexico, sir,” Oscar said.

Swean nodded. He eyed their rudimentary flip chart.

“Why don’t you have a PowerPoint display?” he asked.

“PowerPoint is a distraction,” Cristian replied. “People use it when they don’t know what to say.”

“And you know what to say?”

“Yes, sir.”

See La Vida Robot scholarship fund – to benefit the four team members.

Curious Cat Carl Hayden High School Alumni Page.

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