There’s just something about robots.
Kids today grew up with robots represented in half the TV shows, books, and movies they were exposed to. The older generation remembers a childhood of R2-D2 and C3P0 – and their parents, in turn, remember Robbie the Robot, Klaatu, and other spectacular pulp-era automatons. Robots immediately seize the attention and fire the imagination of children in a way no other technology can.
We recently attended the Southcoast MA Mini Makers Faire, held near our Massachusetts headquarters, and saw first-hand how blazingly excited kids got with exposure to robots. Fortunately, the beneficial influence of studying robotics goes way beyond maker’s fairs and trade shows. Robotics may, in fact, be the key to inspiring the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) researchers, workers, and entrepreneurs.
There is a developing crisis in the STEM field. Employment analysts expect that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States alone – and new STEM jobs are desperately needed. In fact, STEM fields will grow almost twice as fast as conventional areas of employment in this decade. Higher education is doing its part, but the fact is that inspiring young kids to go into STEM fields is the key to ensuring that the American workforce is up to the challenge of dealing with a high-tech economy.
And that may well be where the robots come in. Research shows that engagement with STEM concepts in early childhood and elementary school is practical – the kids can grasp the ideas – and effective. Specifically, out-of-school activities that engage the attention of young kids are very likely to create a lifelong pattern of seeking new knowledge and activity in those same fields. Kids who do something educational *as a hobby on their own time* are clearly hooked. Robotics, as it happens, is an area where even very young kids can do meaningful work, and they will fight to get at the materials and lessons they need to do it.
One area of strong fit between robots and early childhood education is that the elementary school period is a time when kids are having to learn reading and abstract symbol manipulation skills – critical skills to have, obviously – but what they really want to do is to be hands-on, kinetic, to draw and to shape and to create physical objects. Working with robots encourages both the abstract skills that they need (but often aren’t terribly excited by) and expressing those skills with hands-on tinkering and mechanical work. Most of the math and science education in the lower grades is entirely theoretical – robotics allows kids to put what they are learning to direct, immediate application.
Fortunately, the robotics industry is well aware of how critically important it is to get the youngest new learners excited about robots. There is a vast wealth of resources available to schools and educational programs for designing, creating, and deploying robotics projects. Many of these programs are cast as competitions, such as the Wonder League Robotics Competition, where kids from 6 to 12 can compete in a series of events by sending in videos of their robots successfully completing a series of challenges. The Wonder League events focus on programming. The Vex IQ Challenge, for elementary and middle schoolers, focuses more on robot operations, while the First Lego League Jr., for kids age 6 to 10, is naturally all about the building. There are many other programs and events in a similar vein.
Class time in schools is, of course, a natural incubation point for STEM education, and robotics works well as the framework in which to teach a wide variety of STEM concepts. Teachers report that teaching robotics requires kids to look at complex systems made up of multiple parts, to design and connect those systems themselves, which teaches real-world problem solving. The kids are, of course, highly motivated because they are learning by doing, rather than by listening to a teacher talk. And kids who learn best on their own can do so even outside of the school environment with consumer systems like Lego MindStorms, a fully-functioning robotic development kit using Lego blocks for implementation.
No single concept is going to be a magic bullet that solves our shortage of STEM workers. It will take a lot of different ideas, and a lot of different initiatives, to get to where we need to be. It’s clear, though, that robotics is an area with vast potential to inspire young minds to innovate and design the world of the future.
There have been several news stories recently about challenges with Lithium Ion batteries. Most notable is the situation with the Samsung Galaxy 7 but issues with airplanes, hover boards and other personal electronics have been in the headlines.
Since their introduction in the early 1990s, Lithium Ion batteries have become the standard for consumer electronics devices, including smartphones, smartwatches, laptops and cameras. Aquabotix utilizes Lithium Ion batteries to power our ROVs because of their performance and has found them to be very reliable, stable and safe. We have experienced no reports of any problems with these batteries from our customers.
Most Aquabotix ROVs have only internal batteries. That is, the only way to charge the batteries is while they are inside the vehicle and charged through the topside box or vehicle charging port. When charging the batteries inside your vehicle, the danger of fire caused by the overhearing or other failure is minimal. Still it is prudent to charge the batteries only until they are fully charged (charger LED light changes from red to green) and then to unplug the charger from the electric power source.
Some commercial ROV users have purchased additional batteries and external battery chargers from Aquabotix. If you have extra batteries and external chargers, please follow these precautionary steps.
- Always make certain that the batteries, connectors, charger and all other parts are clean and dry.
- Make certain that the batteries and charger are paired as they were supplied to you. Do not mix batteries from one vehicle with another. Do not use any charger other than the one supplied with your vehicle.
- When externally charging batteries, it is advised that the batteries be contained in a fire retardant or fireproof safety bag designed specifically for this purpose. These can be purchased inexpensively or, if you purchased extra batteries and an external charger from Aquabotix, we will be happy to send you a safety bag at no charge. Please contact Aquabotix Customer Service with your vehicle serial number.
If you will be traveling by air with your ROV batteries, please contact Aquabotix Customer Service for further instructions.
Aquabotix is committed to the satisfaction and safety of our customers and users. We appreciate your support and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Phone: +1 508 676 1000
Many ROV applications require that the operator know the position of the ROV with varying degrees of precision. However, precise navigation for small ROVs is actually a very difficult task to achieve.
There are three basic positioning techniques that are practical for use on ROVs: dead reckoning, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Ultra-Short Baseline (USBL). We will look at each of them in turn.
Dead reckoning is the navigational method used by mariners all over the globe before the invention of compasses, chronometers and sextants. In dead reckoning, the navigator starts with a known (or estimated) position, and from there attempts to gauge the vehicle’s position by applying the vehicle’s heading and speed. Depending on the tools available, dead reckoning can be a surprisingly effective form of navigation. In the modern era, where the starting position of an ROV may be known with great precision and the heading and speed of the vehicle are also known quantities, dead reckoning can be sufficient for many applications. However, dead reckoning has one fatal defect: it cannot account for currents in the water. If the current is significant, the position of the ROV at the end of a run can be vastly different than the reckoned position.
The widespread availability and accuracy of global positioning systems (GPS) has made terrestrial navigation a breeze for motorists and surface vessels. Anyone with a line of sight to four or more GPS satellites – which effectively means anyone on the surface of the Earth – can use an inexpensive computerized navigation device to locate themselves, with an accuracy of as close as ten feet. GPS is cheap, effective, and nearly foolproof – so it’s the perfect solution for ROV navigation, right? Unfortunately, no – GPS is almost useless for most ROV applications. The problem is that the satellite communication signal is severely blocked by fresh water, and totally blocked by sea water. Underwater vehicles cannot use GPS without coming to the surface. There are some specialized use cases for GPS on an ROV, but they are few.
Ultra-Short Baseline (USBL) is a technique for determining a vehicle’s position underwater. It is a fairly complex system which involves a base station/transceiver, usually mounted on a ship, a transponder/transceiver mounted on the ROV, and a sophisticated computer system (usually located with the base station). The base station sends out a powerful acoustic pulse, similar to a sonar “ping”. This pulse is picked up by the transponder on the ROV, and a response pulse is sent from the ROV back to the base station. When the base station receives the response pulse, it calculates the duration between the initial signal and the response, and determines the range between the two transceivers based on that time. A set of transducers in the transceivers permits the calculation of a bearing between the two transceivers; the combination of the range and the bearing gives a precise position for the ROV relative to the base station.
USBL is extremely effective and accurate, but it is also expensive - a USBL installation for an ROV can cost upwards of $20,000. It also has a technical weakness in that under “busy” sonar conditions – a crowded harbor, for example – can cause problems for the system. However, for now, USBL represents the state of the art in ROV navigation systems.