Cedarville senior, team builds underwater robot

The team is now preparing for a national underwater robotics competition in June.

A Cedarville University senior has built an underwater robot, one he “knew that he wanted to complete (because it) had never been done successfully.”

Jared Ritzo, from Virginia Beach, Va., built the underwater, remote-operated, vehicle (ROV) as his capstone project, which is required for graduation.

“This was a very lofty capstone idea, one that would be difficult to accomplish because other college students from previous years had attempted to make an underwater robot without reaching a successful conclusion,” Ritzo said. “Our team wanted to prove to everyone that it could be accomplished, and we were committed to making that a reality.”

Ritzo’s vision for the capstone project started the summer before his senior year when he worked as an intern at Oceaneering, a global technology company in Houston, Tex., that specializes in underwater robotics.

During his internship, Ritzo saw “firsthand the need for technological advancements for ocean conservation and exploration,” so when he returned to Cedarville, he gathered a team of seniors interested in underwater robotics and pitched his capstone idea to his professors.

The university’s underwater robotics team includes Ritzo, Ben Schultz, of Metamora, Mich.; Daniel Cavallaro, of Callaway, Md.; Jackson Chairvolotti, of New Hartford, Conn.; and Christopher Tooill, of Sabina, who are all senior mechanical engineering students; Noah Lukinovich, of Cedarville, and a junior graphic design student; and Sarah Rhoades, of Bellevue, and a senior marketing student.

The project was granted provisional approval by Dr. Tim Norman, distinguished professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, and Dr. George Qin, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The team then had to find a pool that would allow them to test their ROV each week throughout the year, in which Ritzo had a four-day deadline to secure one or they would have to find a different capstone project.

They quickly found the indoor pool at the YMCA in Xenia, where leaders said they could use it every Thursday in exchange for meeting with boy and girl scouts in the area to show them various STEM designs.

“We were excited about the opportunity to test our capstone project while also investing in the lives of young students,” Ritzo said. “This was a perfect scenario that allowed us to work on an incredible capstone project that could provide significant benefits, and at the same time, serve young students.”

The team then began building the ROV as well as the parts for it “from the ground up.” For example, Ritzo said, they built a tether spool, which is used to communicate with the robot in the water because it can’t be wireless, out of wood and an underground burial Ethernet cable, which are normally sold for hundreds of dollars.

The robot is built from raw materials like PVC, aluminum brackets and 3D-printed materials, and everything is connected with underwater wires that allows the robot to move in the water and pick up various objects, all of which is controlled by a separate computer.

Now preparing for the National Underwater Robotics Competition (NURC) at Arizona State University in June, the team will have 20 minutes to drive the robot through various tunnels underwater and grab non-radioactive nuclear fuel rods that they will then have to put in a box and move to a specified location. The number of rods they grab and objectives they complete determines how many points the team gets and the winner of the competition.

“Everything is done underwater. We can’t watch the robot, as we will be behind a curtain,” Ritzo said. “We operate the robot using only our computer screens and our controls, all which is away from the water.”

Credit: Scott Huck

Credit: Scott Huck

Every year senior mechanical engineering students at the university complete a required capstone project before graduation, which allow students to combine their book knowledge with practical skills they’ll use in their professional careers.

Projects throughout the years have varied from building race cars and rockets to creating a medical device that can save a person’s life after experiencing a severed carotid artery, which is currently pending FDA approval.

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