November 23, 2009

Design Review: New Solar Array

Anyone who knows anything about the solar panels we have been using (which includes just about everyone except the person writing this) is aware of the various problems that have come up in the past: the panels are made for houses and not boats, output is roughly half of what it should be, and it is difficult to add thermal cooling to something that has already been built.

The goal of the project presented at the design review last week is to equip the boat with a custom-fit solar array in time for the 2010 competition. The new array should be lighter, more efficient, and, it's worth noting, a probable shoe-in for the coveted design award. No team has ever brought this kind of thermal cooling project to competition. As charming as South Hampton was last year, squirting water on their boat each time it passed the dock, we think we can do better.

The team's design attempts to combine the "best of everything." It's kind of like a sandwich that allows water to be pumped through plastic channels, cooling strips of aluminum that will in turn cool the solar cells. Below are some images from the review:

Exploded view. Sandwich ingredients from top to bottom: cells, corrugated plastic (where water runs through) with aluminum strips, fiberglass, corrugated plastic (structural, no water), fiberglass. Yum.

Cell temperature versus time and distance from the origin (in the plastic channel). Note that this model is actually incorrect. The team explained that they repeatedly crashed SolidWorks when trying to complete the modeling, so they went back to flint and did it themselves in MatLab. Which may have been a mistake...but it will be fixed for the future!

Check out the kiva for a more detailed explanation. We'll keep you updated on the progress of this project and others in the weeks to come.

November 16, 2009

Diving In

Welcome to the first post of the Fall 2009 Carnegie Mellon Solar Splash Blog! Better late than never, eh? The semester has been fairly packed as we prepare for the coming spring. Our successes and, uh, misadventures at last spring's competition only left us craving more.

First on the list was assessing equipment and getting up to speed with the state of the boat. Of course, not everything needs to be brand-spanking, shiny new for the boat to float. Along with efforts to acquire new toys, we have been salvaging what we can of last year's equipment. Or, as some of our more zealous members like to put it, "harvesting little squirrels. I believe Mike's response to that was a nervous smile and, "Okay then...well that sounds creepy."

Everyone can agree on one thing, though--money. A whole lotta money. That's what we want. For the past several weeks, Solar Splash has been networking, grant proposal-ing, and padding out budgets in an effort to fund all of our exciting endeavors. This year we were awarded a combined $1250 from Carnegie Mellon's SURG office for all proposals submitted (all of which can be found on the Kiva). As always, we are also looking into a number of other funding sources. In fact, certain unnamed (...male) Solar Splash members recently took it upon themselves to flirt shamelessly with middle-aged millionaires in the hopes that one of them would drop a big, fat check on our boat. Way to take one for the team, guys!

Never ones to turn down a chance to meet new people, Solar Splash also made an appearance at this year's SWE High School Day. The task: "explain to high school girls how engineering helped us fulfill our dreams." The general consensus was to send Paul. However smooth he is with the ladies, though, a valiant dream-sharing effort was put forth by several members, including Riddhi, Dave, Morgan, and Robbie.

More to come in future posts! In the meantime, everyone is gearing up for tomorrow's Design Review. To any alums in the area: stop by PH 125B at 5pm tomorrow, offer your feedback, and relive your college days with some free food.

June 1, 2009

Day 5 - Final Sprint Rounds and the Ride Home

Yesterday marked the end of the Solar Splash 2009 competition, and the team has returned from a 16+ hour drive from Arkansas to Pittsburgh. By far the longest "day" of the competition, it all started as we set up the boat for the final two rounds of the Sprint event.
Meanwhile, we loaded the trailer so that we could make our post-competition egress as swift as possible.

Next, Robbie Wedler stepped into Mike's shoes by being the pilot for our 2nd round sprint heat against University of Northern Iowa. Unfortunately, we had a minor electrical glitch which set us back about 10 seconds in the race, for a total time of 51.54 seconds. Robbie still handled the boat well, as used the opportunity as a good learning experience for the upcoming 3rd heat.

We quickly learned our lesson, and were ready for our head to head 3rd round sprint heat against the University of North Florida. Luckily, we are able to give you a sneak preview of the race before our higher quality tape gets processed, so you can see the race in the video below:

Our final time was 40.47 seconds, leaving us with our top two times of 39.46 seconds from round 1, and 40.47 seconds from round 3.

Of course, it wouldn't be CMSS without some sort of exciting twist in the story.

It turns out that during that final 5 meters of the 300 meter race, our sprint lower unit was under such force that the fiberglass and PVC housing cracked, subsequently shearing the driveshaft.
We also sustained damage to our hull, but this damage will be easily repairable over the course of next year.

Overall, we did better across the board in all events compared with last year, so we are excited about that. The competition became much more fierce this year, so our standing dropped to 12th place out of 18 teams. However, we went away with three awards: the "Sportsmanship" Award, the "Design Achievement" award for outstanding system design and integration, and 3rd place in the Technical Report.

Updated: I've included some new pictures from Robbie's camera of the awards. Below is the whole team (plus lower unit) receiving our competition plaque.

David and I went up to receive the Design Achievement award:
We posed with the team from Southampton, UK when we both received the Sportsmanship award for helping the team from Monterrey.We are happy with our progress this year, and are excited about the awards we received.

Over the past few days we have seen some ups and downs. We have felt elation, devastation, exhaustion, and animation. Despite what we have been through, one thing remains certain. The experiences gained by all of our members over the year has made this year's competition a success. We have seen the fruits of our labor tested against some incredible competition, and as a result have seen what works and what doesn't work. The team had a great time in Arkansas, and have come out of the competition with not only new knowledge, but also new friends (the guys from Monterrey are absolutely awesome).

We will carry the lessons learned throughout this year into the next year. Thanks to the help of sponsorship by National Instruments, 3M, the Steinbrenner Institute, and RE Squared, as well as support from donations by family and friends, we are able to endow next year's team with the capital and financial resources they need to continue our team's development.

A Farewell

It has been an honor to serve as the leader of such a talented and motivated team of students for the past year. When I see how far we have come over the past year, it truly pains me to think that, given my graduation, I now have to leave most of it behind. I have complete faith that Mike Barako and David Bromberg will do an even better job than I at taking this organization to heights we have never seen before. My personal goal for this year was to leave the organization in a better situation than what was given to me. Thanks to the fanastic team of people who have worked on this boat over the year, as well as the truly transformative potential that Mike and David now possess, I can confidently say that I have achieved this goal.

Although I have said it time and time again, I still believe that at Carnegie Mellon Solar Splash, we do not build boats, we build people.

When I look back on how I have changed as a result of CMSS, I have come to realize that it indeed was the people, and not the boat, that were responsible for building me. Working with each and every one of our team members has been an experience worth more than I can ever repay. I wish the team the best of luck in the following years (although I know they won't need it), and look forward to hearing about your progress for years to come.

- Mark
CMSS Ex-President 08-09

May 30, 2009

Day 4 - Endurance

The endurance event marks one of the pinnacles of the competition, and stays true to its namesake. Today tested the endurance of both Hydra and the crew, with over 4 hours on the water in the grueling sun. We started off by setting up Robbie Wedler for the first heat:

Over the next 2 hours we completed circuits around a circular course along with all other teams. We completed around 11.5 laps over the two hour period.
(Image courtesy of Scott Miller
Fortunately the team from Monterrey finally got on the water and did one exhibition lap to show off their boat.
(Image courtesy of Scott Miller
Another cool boat was the rookie team from Southampton, UK seen below.
(Image courtesy of Scott Miller

After the first heat, we quickly scrambled to use our charge controller to charge up one of our batteries to be used in the 2nd heat.

At 1:30 we got into the water for the second heat, with Riddhi as pilot.
We competed again for 2 hours, and finished with a similar length of 10.75 laps.
Both heats gave us times that were better than last year, so the new hull offered some potential improvements in endurance. Preliminary team analysis after the event indicated that the primary limiters on performance were the 4-year old batteries and the selected propeller.

After the race, we set up the boat for the Sprint event tomorrow, then headed back to the hotel to refresh after a long day in and around the water. The team is looking forward to tomorrow, where we will go through some elimination sprint rounds before our final heats. The end of tomorrow will be the awards ceremony, where our final standing will be revealed, along with any other awards we may get. Unfortunately, immediately after the competition we will be hopping in the van to head back to Pittsburgh, so I may not get the chance to update this until midday Monday, but I promise to get you the results of the competition (along with some new pictures) as soon as they become available.
- Mark

May 29, 2009

Day 3 - Sprint First Heat

Today we saw the first heat of the main Sprint, as well as the first appearance of Sun at the competition. The team got hard to work getting out the solar panels out and ready to charge our batteries.

We set up our visual display and were ready to entertain the crowds (as well as the judges).
Our systems were set up and ready to go for the first Sprint heat, but unfortunately some other teams were substantially less fortunate. The team from Tecnológico de Monterrey had several issues with their flotation due to some stress fractures on their way up to competition.
While they rescued their boat, their drive train got submerged and their motor controller got completely fried. Andrew and I along with the rest of the team, as well as members of the Southampton team, tried to get the controller up and running.
We lent the team some of our endurance batteries in order to help diagnose the problem. As a last ditch effort, we sent over our electrical trio of David, Austin, and Robbie to see if they could work some of their electrical magic.
Unfortunately, after a few hours of troubleshooting there was nothing that could be done to fix the controller. The team from Tecnológico de Monterrey was disqualified from the competition, however if they are able to get their boat working by the end of the competition they will be allowed an few exhibition events to showcase their boat. We will do what we can to help them over the next few days, but at that point our efforts shifted to getting ready for the first sprint event.

After adjusting some of the data-logging code for the control hardware, we headed done to the water with Hydra.

After loading her into the water, Hydra competed head to head with the boat from Middle Tennessee State University. Hydra clocked in 39.46 seconds, which is on par with some of our fastest recorded times.(Image courtest of Scott Miller:
We took some video, and will hopefully be posting it after the competition when we can upload them.

Thanks to some quality work by Austin, David, and Robbie we were able to record critical stats about the boat performance. This will make analyzing boat performance much more accurate than in prior years. Below is a graph of some of our current data during our Sprint event:

After the Spring event, we grabbed a few snacks, and then got hard to work transitioning over to the endurance configuration.
After we were done for the day, we went to a local park for a team ultimate frisbee game, some quality team-building, and then had some delicious BBQ with the Wedler family.

Overall we did very well today, and I was very proud of the entire team. We had no major problems, and performed well in the Sprint event, even with our new hull that is optimized for endurance.
Tomorrow is the Endurance event, with 400 points up for grabs, and will be a deciding factor in how our overall standing will be determined. Hopefully, with our new hull and electrical system, we will be able to better our performance from last year and increase our overall standing in the competition. Right now we are planning our strategy for tomorrow, and we are looking forward to what interesting and exciting challenges await us tomorrow.

Check back for updates as they become available!
- Mark

May 28, 2009

Day 2 - Qualifiers and Slalom

On to Day 2!

Today we completed our on the water inspection, followed by the maneuverability and sprint qualifier, then the Slalom event. We first started by getting Hydra into the water for inspections.

We had a minor problem when our tow rope on the trailer came loose, but freshman Jon Boerner gallantly came to the rescue and submerged himself in the Arkansas water to save the trailer. After that debacle, we finished water inspection and Mike Barako flawlessly executed our maneuverability qualifier.

After that, we changed over to the sprint configuration and completed our 75 meter Sprint qualifier in 12.4 seconds, which faired well compared to other teams. The scores for the qualifier event will be published tomorrow morning, so we'll give you all updates on the scores and our updated standing as soon as we can.

Finally, we competed in the Slalom main event, and Hydra handled very well, dispite some issues with the steering cable.

Overall, today was a great day for the team, as all of the systems worked well, with very few incidents or problems. All of the teams at the competition so far have been really helpful and supportive, and we even had some time at the end of the day to play a quick game of Ultimate Frisbee with the TCNJ (The College of New Jersey) team. We just came back from a team dinner and are looking forward to some well-deserved R&R before the main Sprint event tomorrow. We also took some video of our performance, but we will need some time to edit it and upload it when we get back to CMU, so keep an eye out for that after the competition.

We will keep you updated with the results as soon as we are able to!
- Mark

May 27, 2009

Day 1 - Arrival at Competition and Technical Inspections

Hey everyone,

Today we started the first day of the competition! We were the second team at the lake (right after the team from the Southhampton, UK!) and quickly got set up in our tent with Hydra, now nice and shiny silver.

After setup, we got our three skippers weighed in and ballasted up to the 70kg (154lbs). Riddhi netted a total of 4 ballast bags, and once again sent out the organizing staff to buy more ballast for the other teams.

For the competition our skippers will be Mike Barako, Riddhi Roy, and Robbie Wedler (below).

We even had some time between inspections to take a few trips around the area and explore the lake.

Lastly, we ended the night with an excellent dinner hosted at the University of Arkansas. After the feast, Jeff Morehouse presented the awards for best Technical Report. 1st place this year went to Elizabethtown College. We tied with University of Arkansas for 2nd/3rd place, with the difference in the judges scores only differing by 1/10th of a point. We each received 85 out of 90 possible points, with us receiving the 3rd place trophy.

Everyone did a great job this year on the technical report, and I could not be more proud of all of our team members that put so much time and effort into doing the best we could on this competitive portion of the competition.

So at the end of Day 1 we are in pretty good shape, with 1 trophy behind us already. We have 85 out of 90 possible points, and are tied with University of Arkansas for 2nd place. Tomorrow we will hopefully see the results of Qualifiers (100 total points) as well as Slalom (also 100 total points) and will be well on our way in the competition.

I am excited to see how Hydra and the rest of the crew will pull through tomorrow. Keep checking back for more updates as we post the results tomorrow night (no internet at the lake, i'm afraid)!

- Mark