Periscope up

Sep 23, 2005

Submarines in the Recreation Center pool, soldering irons and laptops scattered on the pool deck - it must be an Electrical Engineering capstone project in process.

Presenting students with unique design challenges is just part of the Kettering engineering education. Dr. Laura Rust, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, came up with a doozie when she gave her A-Section Electrical Engineering Capstone class an assignment to design a SUbmersible, Autonomous VEhicle, or SUAVE submarine, using a paintball refill tube as the body.

Capstone is a design class for seniors, to bring all their engineering training together to design and implement a project to certain specifications.

"I chose this project because I liked the difficult environment (water), it included a motor which adds to the challenge, it had not been done before and I like mini objects," said Rust of the assignment.

This vehicle was required to travel autonomously through an obstacle course in the university's Recreation Center swimming pool and then complete a one-hour endurance test. Only pitch and yaw control (left and right) were required to complete the obstacle course made out of hula hoops suspended underwater.

Student teams were evaluated on speed, endurance, cost and styling of their vehicle. The chassis (paintball refill tube) and battery supply (Kokom LiPolymer) for the design were the only mandatory elements students had to use.

"The testing went really well," said Rust of the pool event. "Most teams were able to demonstrate the required functions and two teams were able to get through the obstacle course, both finishing in eight seconds, which is especially interesting since one team used motors and propellers for propulsion and the other used pumps," she said. Rust felt that overall, it was a good, but challenging project for students.

Challenge was a word heard often around the pool during the evaluation. Brian Frick, of Lima, Ohio, Chantel Avery, of Detroit, and Nathan Korbau, of Dayton, solved the watertight "challenge" by using a magnetic on/off switch. "We used a magnet for the on/off because we didn't want to break the water tight seal," explained Frick. "It's one of the best solutions for keeping it water tight," said Rust.

The team of Amy Yurkovic, J. Nick Lovria, and Andrea M. Kroll was one of the two teams to complete the obstacle course on their first try, receiving full points for design and execution of the project.

The team found their biggest challenge was finding time to test their submarine during pool hours. "We tested it in a Rubbermaid bucket," said Avery. The first time they put it in water it ran backwards.

The team of Chase Boehlke, of Lapeer, Julie Harcz, of Mt. Morris, and Jonathon Kroll, of Sebewaing, had too much up, "we need more down," said Boehlke. They used individual motors to power movable fins that were designed to make the submarine dive, ascend and turn to the left and right. One of their motor mounts broke and caused their sub to act differently than planned so they were re-writing computer code poolside in an attempt to meet the project requirements. Their toggle on/off switch was "fairly water tight," Boehlke said.

Another team solved the up down issue with a short pole and long pole on top of their submarine. Each pole had a float that closed a switch when it became submerged, essentially signaling a depth and turning a motor on or off which caused the sub to dive or ascend. Chris Mizell, of Melbourne, Fla., Brandon Darling, of Waterford, and Mike Legacy, of Fenton, found the pole design to be very effective for up and down.

Missing a teammate turned out to be the biggest challenge for Ben Manlonget, of Windsor, Ont., and Jeff Kleinow of Alpena. Their teammate Jon Stauffer of Dayton, had class during the pool test time, and because the team divided up production duties, they were at a loss when a motor broke and Stauffer was the one best able to fix it. Their duct tape-wrapped submarine would go up, down and to the left, but would not go to the right. "We'll do what we can today and fix the motor tomorrow before the endurance test," said Kleinow.

Up and down was a challenge overcome by the team of Kevin Wolter, of Carve, Dave Ongena, of DeWitt, and Bryan Haithcoat, of North Branch. Their submarine had a syringe on the front to take in and release water to help the sub go up and down. At first it wasn't working properly, but later they were able to finish the obstacle course successfully.

Rust said she will assign the submarine project again because it was a good and challenging engineering project.

The vehicle and students' engineering efforts were evaluated on:
Weekly team meetings,
Vehicle Performance including: forward motion, left to right motion and dive and ascend motion,
Water tight but accessible vehicle,
Cost, and


Written by Dawn Hibbard