The lazy days of summer have yet to arrive for University of Arizona mechanical and electrical engineering senior Eduardo Moreno. He will spend this summer much like he did last summer – designing and constructing a low-cost underwater robot he calls the A-CURV.
A-CURV stands for Autonomous Cooperative Underwater Robotic Vehicle, and it is being designed for the exploration of shallow waters (45-100 feet) and closed spaces.
Moreno envisions its use as a national defense system protecting U.S maritime borders or for use in exploration, and he's pursuing federal grants with the help of his mentor, Ricardo Sanfelice, assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Moreno, who is from Yuma, Ariz., has thus far funded the project with scholarship money while seeking additional financial support from corporate sponsors. The enterprising Moreno outsourced the manufacturing of many of the parts he designed from a company in Mexico near his hometown. Then, he acquired electronics from Pololu robotics and electronics in Las Vegas and obtained a tether for video and data transmission from the company Teledyne.
"I also scavenged for parts on EBay," Moreno said.
Last summer, Moreno worked on the project as part of the McNair Achievement Program.
The McNair Achievement Program is a U.S. Department of Education graduate school preparation program for low-income, first-generation college students in their junior or senior years with GPAs of 3.0 or higher. The program partners students with UA faculty members who have similar research interests.
Moreno is thankful for and credits Sanfelice, a systems controls and tracking specialist, for his expertise and guidance. Last year, Moreno worked on the project largely on his own.
This year, Moreno counted on a team of student engineers who worked on the project as part of a senior design team he sponsored. "I can't do it all and really enjoyed the collaborative experience of learning from the expertise of other students," he said.
The UA Underwater Robotics Research Team went on to win the 2010 Graduate and Professional Student Council student showcase and in 2011 won the Best Use of Off-the-Shelf Components category during the Engineering Design Day competition.
"My motivation is not only to do a really good job at whatever I am doing and to see this robotic concept through, but rather to multiply my impact on society through a group of people and provide an environment where those working on a common project can learn from each other and take something with them," he added.
The robot Moreno is designing will compete with the two most currently used underwater robots, the ROV (remotely operated vehicle controlled from the surface by a tether) and AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle that navigates unmanned using acoustics or GPS as guides).
A-CURV will have the capability for remote and autonomous operation, and Moreno said its most appealing features are its comparative low cost and its easy-to-use modular and upgradable capabilities.
He said his interest in underwater robotics stemmed from a childhood of rebuilding electronic toys into completely different creations, and the design of the A-CURV is a testimony to his ingenuity.
His design includes attachable modules each designed for specific tasks such as gripping, navigation, temperature reading and specimen storage.
Moreno's goals are to construct two more robot modules. He also will design a central tether platform, finish the computer simulation, derive a mathematical model for the control of the overall system – centralized and decentralized, perform a feasibility study for national defense applications, and then perform tests on the systems.
He is a bit daunted about being able to find the identical parts used in his prototype to construct two more models without a grant, but remains hopeful for the future of A-CURV.
Said Moreno: "I'm excited about graduate school. Most students don't begin their studies with a theory that they must prove. It's time consuming and laborious to arrive at one's research topic and even more so to create the hardware necessary to test it. But with the work I have already done, I know I'm more than a few steps ahead and ready to take those next steps."