Well, here we are again, with another year of RoboSub upon us. We've been working hard this year making improvements and changes to Aqua Ursa for this year to meet our lofty expectations from last year. With SubmURSA definitively retired, it's time to see what Aqua Ursa can do, and if it can match (or exceed) the performance of its predecessor.
Veselin and I arrived at Edmonton International at the far-too-early time of 4:20 am, ready to embark on our odyssey. After breezing through security (and enduring the usual scrutiny because we were both carrying some of our sub's batteries and a large volume of electronics), we had a short wait before our flight.
Since we had accidentally killed our voltage regulator on the power board shortly before we were ready to leave, it was important we find a replacement. Some spare parts had been scrounged from around the lab for a makeshift solution, but it was decided to order a direct replacement to ensure our functionality would be back to 100%.
We took advantage of the wait for boarding to find the same regulator on Digikey, and after some initial sticker shock at the shipping costs (Digikey offers flat-rate $8 next-day shipping anywhere in Canada, but this option does not exist in the US...what??), we decided it was a much-needed part, and placed the order, expecting it at our hotel in a day or two.
After an uneventful flight to Phoenix, we had a short layover which I took advantage of to check on some of our spare circuit boards that were shipped late to Edmonton. They were not critical to our functionality, but one thing that is certain at RoboSub - you always need a spare something. The boards had arrived in Edmonton, so I arranged to have them overnighted to our hotel.
We boarded our flight to San Diego and arrived in short order ahead of the rest of the team. We decided it would be best to get the rental van and return to the airport to pick up everyone else once their flight arrived.
A quick trip to Budget yielded our ride for the week - a blue Dodge Caravan - and a return to the airport and we were able to quickly find the rest of the team. Things were flowing smoothly so far! Fitting the team and all our luggage proved to be a minor challenge, but fortunately all the Tetris I play paid off, and we were able to fit everyone and everything into the van. Now time to check-in to the hotel, find our gear, and get the robot re-assembled!
We arrived at the hotel, and I wondered aloud if this was the right place as we walked into the lobby. Upon seeing a few guests milling around the lobby wearing 'RoboSub' shirts, my concerns were quickly put to rest. The front desk informed that us that one of our rooms was ready, while one was not, and as an added bonus, they informed us that our crate had arrived and was waiting for us! It's nice when things go according to plan! We got the keys for the room that was ready and quickly unloaded all of our luggage into it.
We had acquired a second-floor room with a balcony overlooking the courtyard. At the other end, we could see the hotel pool, where we expected to be spending several late nights the next few days, doing whatever testing we could squeeze in. Compared to our small testing pool at the University, this was a whole new world!
It was decided that we should grab a bite to eat, to which I wholeheartedly agreed, having not eaten since leaving Edmonton. We piled in the van and headed to the closest fine dining establishment - McDonald's - which is always an adventure in itself. The nice thing about the menu at an American McDonalds is that it's not always the same thing back home, so there were many more options for us to try out.
We brought our McDonalds back to the hotel and lounged about the room while gorging on our chicken nuggets and sandwiches. Jamie remarked about how nice the weather was, and if we could go sight-seeing, which was met with laughter from the rest of the team. If only she knew how much work was ahead of us. You'll see Jamie, you'll see...
Seeing as there was only an hour before orientation, we decided we should get our crate so we could start organizing our equipment and assembling the robot. We were able to retrieve it in short order and wheeled it back to our other room on the ground floor. Unfortunately, we hit a snag when we realized the crate was too wide to fit through the doorway. After some deliberation, we decided to leave it outside the room and proceeded to empty it of its contents and begin the work needed to get Aqua Ursa ready to run.
Since four o'clock was fast approaching, we figured we had better get ready for orientation. I told everyone to get their new t-shirts on, but there was some debate about the white colour being too see-through, while others preferred to wear our work shirts. After an animated back and forth, we eventually settled on a mix of the two and ran down to the lobby to get ready for orientation.
Orientation proceeded much as it has for the last 3 years - old hat for Veselin and I - safety rules, competition rules, shuttle information, watch out for rattlesnakes, and so on. The biggest surprise was the number of teams this year - 39 - which makes this the biggest RoboSub yet. It will surely be an interesting week!
The biggest change this year due to the number of teams was the TRANSDEC pool being split into 4 sections instead of the usual 2 - each section would have a gate and buoys for the qualification rounds, and the course would be reconfigured later in the week for semi-finals.
The orientation concluded with the usual grilling of Dave on various aspects of the course and scoring, and then it was over. Time to get back to work!
We returned to the hotel rooms, where the usual chaos ensued - toolboxes were cracked open, parts were strewn about, electronics haphazardly rigged together across the bed - standard stuff. The mechanical team got to work re-assembling the robot from it's broken-down shipping state, while Veselin, Rumman and myself assembled all the electronics on the bed to see if everything was communicating properly. Our goal was to get the robot in the water tonight if at all possible...and hopefully get it into a state to qualify tomorrow.
We worked until late into the night getting things ready, and about the time I started forgetting what Veselin and I were discussing mid-conversation is when I decided that we should all turn in for the night. Tomorrow was going to be an early day - the first of many to come - so we should get at least some sleep. I declared a 6:30am wake-up time for everyone (we can sleep in the first day, I suppose), much to Jamie's chagrin. I guess she can do the blogging tomorrow...
ARVP Team Leader
University of Alberta