By Jon Machinski
The road to semifinals was not as easy as we had hoped. We did start off day 2 right, I woke up at 5:45 am and got to the daily draw a little late, but still got us a 12 noon start time. This was alright since we could use the setup time and get the whole team there. Of course, since it was the first full day at the TRANSDEC Naval Base, we were missing all kinds of items from the hotel and things were needed from around San Diego. As I was out, sourcing a local sticker supplier, the team had completed the qualification task on their first attempt! We all celebrated, but it was short-lived, as the next pool test came, one of our battery pods flooded and knocked out another battery. We had been having periodic leaks in both the battery pods and the hull recently, knocking out one of our 6 batteries before the competition. Four batteries are required to run the robot, so this additional loss meant we no longer had any extras. It was late enough in the day that we decided to pack it in back to the hotel and make the best of our night with preparation for tomorrow. It was up to myself and the mechanical team to do something about these leaks.
After a late night of testing for the team, I got up at 5:30 am to make sure I was on time for the draw. I got to the parking are on time, and luckily the bus driver got their early. I offered him a tip to take me before his 6:30 am shift, and made it to the draw on time. My name was the second pull and I could choose any time I’d like so I felt 8 am was enough time to wake the team in a mad rush. Between my order-barking, mad driving skill, and Robosub running late, we made it to the test on time. The loss of another battery yesterday made me jump into action. We needed to do something. As the head of finances, I know better than anyone how strapped we are for cash, and Rumman would tan my hide if I went out and bought another battery. So I spoke to Curtis and Ryan about replacing the o-ring on the battery pods since they had not been replaced in over two years. I found a local supplier and rushed over with Curtis. The supplier heard we were from the UofA and was impressed by our bot, the had all the o-rings we needed on shelf, along with new o-rings for the hull. When we got back to TRANSDEC that afternoon, the team had a successful morning test. Curtis replaced the o-rings on the pods, but the afternoon test showed that the o-rings were not the only issue, the batteries took on a small amount of water. It was clear that the replacement battery pods this year were of a larger tolerance than the old ones from 2017, allowing water to sometimes get it. This meant we had to get a backup plan for the batteries tomorrow.
That night, we had dinner at Chipotle and eased back into work around 9 pm. I took Noni to buy some extra clothes before Target closed and she got me a late night shake. When we got back, I got a call about a missing Home Depot bag containing our epoxy, nuts, bolts, and some other supplies. I didn’t think much of it, but it soon consumed my evening. The buoyancy pods started taking on water, so we had to glue them again, before putting the robot into the overnight pool. So I scrambled and asked every team we knew and saw for their epoxy so the evening didn’t go to waste. However, no one had the right epoxy and I got the mechanical team to use duct tape as a temporary seal. It wasn’t what we needed but at least it would give us a few hours of pool time.
The next morning was 5:30 am again, and this time I got James to tag along. He got the second draw again and we got the 11 am pool time we wanted. We also found the bag we were missing that the night crew lost with our other key items. This pool time gave us enough time to go to Home Depot, get the epoxy, glue the PVC and wait for it to set for 2 hours. The pool test went great and we were able to track the dice in the pool, but a battery pod took on another major leak. Everyone knew this was life or death, and we ran to dry and test the batteries. We weren’t sure but after a few minutes, it looked like the batteries were going to survive. I, however, took this as an omen, and immediately started calling San Diego battery suppliers. Within an hour, I was on my way to a supplier with the exact battery we needed, same voltage, but about half the capacity. This meant they had half the runtime, but charged much faster. The price was also right, I called Alain and verified it was the specs he wanted, but we decided to hold off on purchasing until we spoke with everyone that night since cash was so tight. I headed back to the TRANSDEC, but before I arrived, I received a text informing me another battery had actually died. I didn’t have time to park and just picked up Alain to inspect the batteries in person. The decision was made, we needed to spend the cash. A detour was made back to the hotel to make an adapter for the batteries’ new connectors, then was headed back. We found out the team discovered one of the previously thought to be dead batteries must have dried enough and started taking on a charge again, it just wouldn’t fully charge. This was good enough for us, and the battery was used in the day’s last pool test. A waste of effort getting the new batteries? Maybe, but at least we have the backup option in our hands now ready to use in a moment’s notice. We had some additional good fortune with our final pool test for the day being extended for an hour and swapping our semifinal time for a later run. Now we are furiously working into the night, getting ready to take on our first semifinal run tomorrow at 1 pm! Wish us luck, we’ll need it.