A team of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology unveiled on Wednesday an unmanned submarine designed to locate and gather intelligence about suspected unexploded bombs sitting on the ocean floor.
The drone, called Perseus II, was constructed by the students through a partnership with the Rapid Reaction Technology Office, an office in the Department of Defense.
The drone, which cost around $15,000 to build, is controlled by an everyday video game controller and uses thrusters to ascend, descend and accelerate toward its target. Once a target is located, cameras on the drone send images of it back to a computer through a 40-foot Ethernet cable. Perseus is also equipped with a set of parallel lasers, approximately 6 inches apart, which could be used to measure the size of a suspected underwater bomb.
“The idea is to gather enough intelligence so that if we were asked to assess an underwater object, we would be able to figure out enough information about it that we could run that data through a database of known ordnances, and that might help us identify the type of device it is,” said Mark Siembab, a mechanical engineering student in the penultimate year of a joint Bachelor’s/Master’s degree program.
How can the Navy gather as much intelligence as possible about a possible bomb on the ocean floor without a risk?
“We had to put together a team from various departments that was a mixture of people I recruited and volunteers,” said DeLorme. “Everyone involved was aware of the commitment that this project demanded.”
Each student on the team spent about eight to 10 hours per week on the project, sometimes working in the lab until the wee hours of the morning. In addition to Siembab and DeLorme, the team consisted of computer scientists Ethan Hayon and Brandon Vandegrift, mechanical engineers Joseph Huyett and Michael Giglia, and naval engineer Donald Montemarano.
A challenging project
According to DeLorme, the Defense Dept. has increased its outreach to educational institutions in recent years in an effort to see if there are new technologies or innovative ways of thinking which their usual contractors, large firms like Lockheed Martin, might not be focusing on. The Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) included four other schools in its underwater drone project.
The problem the teams had to solve was simple: a diver comes across an unidentified and possibly dangerous object on the ocean floor. How could the Navy gather as much intelligence as possible about the object without putting lives at risk?
The cameras, headlights, and lasers were the initial ideas that the Stevens team came up with, but soon they faced issues with waterproofing their drone (the project defined the ocean floor as 40 feet deep, where there is significant water pressure). The team eventually decided to use 3-D printing technology, which can turn computer designs into plastic physical objects, to build the specific pieces they needed in an effort to limit leaks. The plan worked.
They also faced a tough challenge in figuring out how to transmit the information back to whoever is manning the drone from a boat or land. They solved that problem by running the 40-foot Ethernet cable to a Wi-Fi transmitter atop a boogie board that floats on the surface, allowing not only for wireless transmissions but also easy visibility on the ocean’s surface.
Defense Dept. impressed
The Stevens team presented their design to Defense Department officials in Key West, Fla. late last year, along with several other teams. The students said that they thought the officials were impressed with their design. They themselves thought that for the limited budget they were faced with, Perseus II was a success.
“They were after innovative designs that they might not see from your typical defense contractor,” said Montemarano. “I think we definitely satisfied the mission, and while there are always things that could be improved, I think overall we’re pretty happy.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org