So Much To See, Under the Sea

by Sharyn Kopf - Cedarville, OH

At the beginning of the movie Titanic, small submersibles are seen exploring the almost 100-year-old wreckage lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond offering dramatic glimpses of the once-magnificent ship, these remarkable technological creations have provided the world with information that has, until recently, been out of reach and out of sight.

Surprisingly, though, this is not technology that has been shared among the scientific community, leaving individual companies with the task of developing their own similar machines. In 2006, such a company approached Cedarville University, wondering if their senior engineering students would be interested in the undertaking.

Each fall, Cedarville engineering students select from a variety of projects — some their own ideas, but most offered by industry partners or faculty members. This year Hydro Technologies, a young Colorado-based company, asked the students to build a prototype Remote-Operated Vehicle (ROV).

Dr. Clint Kohl, associate professor of electrical engineering, was the faculty adviser for the senior design project. “There are two main purposes for an ROV,” he said. “One is recreation, to see what’s underwater. It works very well if you’re treasure-seeking. The other is more commercial — to do inspections and documentations.”

Eight students chose this assignment and were divided into two teams of four. This provided the participants with a certain degree of competition, though some collaboration was encouraged. The small size of the teams was also a benefit; it gave each student more opportunity to be involved. Everyone had to pull his or her own weight to see the task completed satisfactorily.

“The students put a lot of time into this — a total of about 1,300 hours,” Kohl noted. “They put a substantial effort into this very detailed and complicated project.”

In fact, Kohl considers this one of the most ambitious and demanding undertakings ever attempted by Cedarville students. If prior tasks had been like riding a bike, this one was closer to operating a freight train. “We weren’t sure the students could complete it on time,” said Kohl, “but they did.”

Because of the considerable amount of information being processed, the main challenge of the job was designing the software. Kohl referred to the amount of information as “impressively high.”

In the end, the students came up with a product that was not only successful, but close to being commercially viable. They were able to meet all of their main objectives and more. Senior Ryan Prins said, “It gave us all a chance to demonstrate how much we’ve been able to master in just a few years at Cedarville University.”

Cedarville graduate David Ellis was a systems engineer at Hydro Technologies while the school was involved with the project, and he served as the students’ main contact at the company. “This project ... presented several areas of work that are not normally seen in undergrad projects,” Ellis explained. “From the outset, the students handled themselves well. They presented impressive initial designs that promised to meet or surpass our specifications.”

Ellis went on to say that the final results were beyond what they had hoped would be accomplished in two semesters. In addition, both teams added extra features that Ellis called “intuitive and useful.”

But the most important aspect of this project was providing students with real world experience — the kind of research and design experience that translates into a successful career following graduation.

For instance, senior Michael Hand asserted that “the hands-on experience I gained, especially in overcoming problems and roadblocks, will be immeasurably helpful as I leave college and move on to a career in engineering.”

“Although challenging and time-consuming,” said senior William Elgersma, “working on this project provided me with many skills and competencies that certainly contributed to the job offers I received.”

Fellow team member Ben Cady agreed that it was a challenging experience. “I had to pull together a lot of knowledge from my classes I’ve taken over the last four years, as well as learning new material,” Cady said. He added, “I’m pretty sure that it was mostly this project that helped me get the job of systems engineer associate at Lockheed Martin.”

Kohl is more than impressed with the sophistication and degree of completion shown by the students. “Cedarville University is not a big name. We don’t graduate thousands of students. So, how do we stand out?” he said. “We do notable senior projects … and were able to give this company something unique and different. I’m proud of our students.”