10:19 AM

Engineering team all wet

Underwater Robotics Team proves fulfilling for student members

Competitive water sports aren’t just for athletes at The Ohio State University.

Outside Knowlton Hall this summer, STEMbot went for a swim.

STEMbot, the Ohio State Underwater Robotics Team’s demo vehicle, is a small submarine robot used to draw attention to the collaborative engineering concepts the student group explores.

“Not a lot of people know who we are, but we build autonomous submarines,” said Jennifer Humanchuk, a third-year electrical and computer engineering student and member.

This year, the team has taken Puddles – a larger competitive autonomous submarine – to the international AUVSI RoboSub 2019 competition in San Diego, which runs through Aug. 4.

The team is determined to make a name for itself at the competition.

“We’re really hoping this year we’ll be in the finals,” Humanchuck said.

The robotics team is an interdisciplinary student project group specializing in the design, construction and operation of autonomous underwater vehicles. Each vehicle is designed to self-navigate through a series of tasks, mimicking ongoing research in autonomous underwater systems.

“We design it so we can throw it in the water and it does its own thing, completely on its own,” Humanchuk said.

Electrical and computer engineering student and team member Blaine Miller said he is already reaping the benefits of joining the Ohio State group.

“I just got a job with Battelle because they saw all of my work with acoustic systems within the electronics of the robot,” he said. “This team is a great experience. It’s a great resume builder. People love to see that you’ve been gaining real-world experience.”

Ohio State engineering students are involved in a broad scope of motorsport teams, from EcoCAR and Buckeye Current to the Baja Buckeyes, because their technological knowledge offers a broad platform of applications.

Benji Justice, also in electrical and computer engineering, is the current president of the underwater robotics team and called it “probably the best decision I made during my four years at Ohio State. I discovered the team at the annual Engineering Student Involvement Fair.”

The team performs a number of outreach events in the Columbus community as a way of giving back and generating more interest in the field of robotics. At the Ohio State Fair, the students annually design and build an exhibit to educate the local community about marine engineering. This involves demonstrating smaller vehicles like STEMbot, which guests can engage with in a small pool. The team also presented at MakerX: The Columbus Maker Expo.

Justice said he enjoyed getting to operate an underwater robot at the events and talking with the team members about how it worked.

“I had never seen anything like it. I was hooked. Wanting to learn more, I decided to join and the rest is history,” he said.

Students from a variety of majors are responsible for building every aspect of the vehicles, including machining the housings, soldering the circuit boards and developing the software. What Miller said he finds the most rewarding is collaborating with other student engineers toward a common goal.

“You’re working with people who think the same way you do, who want to experience the same challenges that you like facing,” he said.

Justice said the team helped him develop technical, leadership, business and communication skills.

“My experience with the team has really been an invaluable, defining piece of my experience here,” Justice said. “I will never forget the memories made and lessons learned with this team."

Humanchuk currently designs the circuit boards for the robot. Starting in the fall, she will help shape the vision of the team going forward.

“I joined the team because I really like robots,” she said, “and now next year I’ll be the team president.”

Another electrical and computer engineering student and team member, Gus Workman, said the team takes its job seriously.

“Safety is a big concern because it’s around water,” he said. “You have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. A lot of what we do is making sure to put fuses in, so if (the robot) does short out we have no issue with it electrocuting somebody. I think it’s all about managing different systems, all combining different electrical signals.”