July 25, 2013 – Day 5 – Today the Gate, Tomorrow the World

Posted by admin-robotlord on July 27, 2013

Waking up from the breakfast food coma I induced feels great. It’s already late in the morning; Lee and Mike inform Rumman and I that we qualified on our run. Great news! Our semi-final run takes place at 5:30 today, so we pack our things and rush out the door to join the rest of the team at our tent. On the way we stop at Target for some supplies. This included more of the coveted Vanilla Coke that we’ve grown to be dependent on in our many lengthy work session.

Once arriving at the Transdec we all fall into the routine of undaunted slave labour that has become the centre point of our lives this week. Praise be to the URSA gods that demand our constant attention. Everyone is hard at work, and in the midst of it all sits Lee, diligently continuing his work on the sonar board. A task that days earlier was exciting and new has now become the bane of his very existence. He drops the soldering iron and hunches over in despair, calling on Scott (who is sitting next to him) to continue this wretched work. I look on in disbelief as our Mechanical Engineering Team Leader takes a soldering iron in hand and begins working on the electronic task that had finally defeated our beloved Electrical Engineering Team Leader; may Lee rest in peace.

It approaches 5:30 and our semi-final run is on the horizon. We gather up our gear and transport SubmURSA to the loading dock. Mike takes the reins and we look on as SU is lowered into the Trandec pool to the waiting arms of the navy diver. Mike hooks up the tether to SU and Veselin provides some final words of encouragement to it via his laptop. The tether is disconnected and SubmURSA submerges quickly beneath the glassy surface of the pool. Up on the giant screen hanging above the pool the underwater cameras relay SU’s aquatic voyage. With the heading of the gate locked in, it heads straight for its objective. The journey is slow, but little SubmURSA is determined to show the ARVP team that our hard work has paid off. We rejoice as it crosses the threshold. Mike motions for the kill-switch to be activated and the diver ends SU’s adventure; the submarine quickly resurfaces and is towed back to the dock. Although it is a small victory and we are unable to complete any further tasks, it is a triumph and a monument to the hard work that we have put in to arrive at this moment.

Now that our semi-final run has been completed the real work can begin. The MechE’s begin preparing Aqua URSA for recording sonar data from the Transdec, outfitting it with the clamps for the hydrophones. Having finally made it into the water, ARVP is now attracting the attention of the other teams and the many spectators that have been following the competition. It seems everyone is interested in what happening with the University of Alberta team that has been thus far absent from the competition and has suddenly come to life. Many of are still hard at work, while a few are stripped away to answer the many questions that start to pour. Questions about our designs, the two platforms, what our delays were, and how we’ve managed to go from relatively nothing to the achievements we’ve made today.

Now that Scott has finished resoldering the components for the sonar filter board, Lee returns to the battle; he is testing the board, attempting to prepare it for integration in process of recording some sonar signals for testing. It is now late in the day and almost time to leave the Transdec. Mike requests that the MechE’s pack up to leave, to which the sedated team feign a response. Mike then more firmly asserts his request, barking out orders to which the MechE’s then quickly jump to attention. Without the strength of our team leader I fear all this work might drive our team to madness and ultimately pure chaos. We pack as much as we can and I join the MechE’s in returning to the hotel.

Back at our place of operations it seems a Jazz band has set up on the beach. For a moment I am reminded that we are in fact in an exotic place, staying at a fancy resort, on what appears to be 8 days of vacation. But I am all too aware that this is far from vacation. Before the rest of the team returns Alvin and I decided to take this short window of opportunity to hit the gym. We walk past the band playing on the stage set up just outside our patio, past the throngs of people gathered to enjoy the event, and past the catering tent with various platters of food laid out in delicate arrangements. Our vacation will have to remain vicarious for the time being.

After our short session in the gym, everyone is back to work: soldering, programming, and sealing the water tight electronics compartments. I am instructed to solder together the cable for the cameras we will use to complete the vision tasks. Working delicately under a magnifying glass to attach the tiny components, I suddenly become aware that the room around me has grown silent and empty. The faint smell of cheese and grease wafts into the room from next door. I rise from my seat, breaking out of the trance I’d been in for the last few hours, and move towards the MechE’s room. As I turn the corner I discover the entire ARVP team sitting on the beds, pizza in hand, watching TV. I jokingly voice my disappointment at being ill informed of this event, but soon join in on the desperately needed break.

Later, Mike is busy testing the main board, and Lee begins setting up equipment on the patio to test the filters. The band on the beach is still playing, to which Lee comments “The only thing better than testing filters on the patio, is doing it with La Bamba is blaring next to you.” As he opens the door the popular song fills the room but is quickly silenced as Lee shuts the door behind him, exiling himself to test the sonar. Meanwhile, I’ve been informed by Alvin that I must redo the cables I’ve just finished. The cables need some extra connections so they can be installed into the camera box. It is already getting late in the evening and our hopes of testing new systems tonight are quickly diminishing as new problems continue to arise. After the third time resoldering the cables we decide that it’s going to be scrapped altogether for another cable. It seems to me that over the course of the weekend, anything that I have built or designed has at some point been either reworked or discarded altogether. At least I can find solace in the fact that my power board is still in operation; without it nothing would be working, a small victory.

At some point we discover that Lee has managed to fall asleep mid search on his laptop. For a solid ten minutes we all gather around him as Mike attempts to change his desktop wallpaper to a picture recently taken of his current position. However, Lee’s hand on the keyboard prevents us from accomplishing our malicious goal. After much effort, Lee starts awake, to which the entire team can no longer contain their laughter. Lee is anything but conscious at this point, eyes open but certainly not aware of his surrounding, he soon falls back to sleep. Following the much needed comic relief we return to our work.

Most of the MechE’s have gone to bed; only Alvin remains to assist me in the pool should we finally reach a testing phase. The chances look increasingly grim. Alvin is assisting Mike in waterproofing some of the external cables for tomorrow. Rumman is busy soldering new cables for the camera case, and I look on as Veselin attempts to get the vision recognition algorithms working.

After a time we suddenly realize that no one has seen Mike in a while. Our fearless leader has vanished in our most desperate hour. The four of us climb the stairs to his hotel room to investigate his whereabouts. There, face down on the bed, we find our captain. He opens his eyes and stares intently at us, looking as guilty as a kid caught in the cookie jar. As if to justify his actions he grabs a box next to him containing the embedded computer and tosses it further across the bed to our attention, claiming “I came up to get this.” We decide to leave Mike to rest; it’s been a hard week.

Though we return to continue preparing for vision testing, it is more than evident that our time is up. Veselin and Rumman are still working as I slowly begin to fade. An undeniable sense of defeat washes over me despite all our efforts. What will we do tomorrow? At this point it seems we will get no further. Static judging is tomorrow, and we must present our work. One thing is certain though, we can be proud of the progress we have made.

Tomorrow is a new day, and like every day I am sure it will hold many surprises and new challenges.


Wally Fischer
ARVP Electrical Team
University of Alberta


One comment on “July 25, 2013 – Day 5 – Today the Gate, Tomorrow the World”

  1. You guys are doing amazing work! Congratulations on getting through the gate again. It is such a great feeling.

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