Natick Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam at NSRDEC

By Alexandra Foran, NSRDEC Public AffairsJanuary 8, 2013

Natick Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam at NSRDEC
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A group of representatives from Natick High School Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam held a discussion at the Natick Soldier Systems Center regarding their ideas for an ice search and rescue remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). The team is being funded $10,000 by the Lemelson-MIT Program whose goal is to assist students, teachers and mentors with their invention projects.

The team made a separate trip to Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to learn about and tour the Prototype Shop in particular. Different subject matter experts led the students in a guided tour of the facilities and explained the varying types of equipment, materials, and designs the shop offers as well as constructs.

NHS already has a good working relationship with NSRDEC which has provided both volunteers and financial support to their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, including their robotics teams in previous years. With a real-world problem that needs to be solved, the high school students came to Natick to seek technical support and pose questions, which in turn created a great dialogue that ultimately left the Natick InvenTeam with even more questions than when they began their meeting.

"I want them to fail often and fail early," said Doug Scott, Natick High School teacher. "I've never taken on something this challenging as a teacher."

In short, the team has been considering making two ROVS. An amphibious ROV would enter water through the same point of entry as a victim may have in the ice, then search the water for a victim with as little disturbance as possible. The ROV will most likely have a way of attaching itself to a victim to enable a diver to find the person more quickly. Another ROV with treads may be used to bring the smaller amphibious ROV to the point-of-entry hole and deploy the robot into the water.

"I think that you don't have to solve all the problems. You want to have something that in most situations, under conditions you think you can control for, it will be effective and then later you can make modifications for those unique situations," said Lt. Col.( Doctor) Timothy Haley, Clinical Director, Office of Medical Support and Oversight at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine at Natick.

"This will increase the speed of the preliminary search, help reach the target quicker, and help keep the divers out of icy waters for an extended period of time," said Katelyn Sweeney, Natick High junior and Communications Lead for the Natick InvenTeam.

Students thought about a lot of the problems that exist when divers are called to holes in ice and how they have to approach the situation. They spoke diver Justin Fox from Dive Rescue International in order to get some input from a diver who has experienced ice search and rescue dives firsthand.

Fox, president of the training division of Dive Rescue International, was contacted by the Natick InvenTeam this past summer. He provided insight on strengths and weaknesses of existing R.O.V.s currently on the market as well as answers to questions about ice rescue, hazards, ice diving, SONAR, and other general rescue equipment as well.

Fox is impressed by the team's professionalism and believes the team "has what it takes to be successful." Fox knows full well that, "there is a great need for development of safer and more effective methods of retrieving a drowning victim in extreme environments."

"I work for a company that focuses on the safety and effectiveness of public safety water rescue teams," said Fox. "Anything that can help more of them go home safely at the end of a shift is worth its weight in gold to me. I love the idea of American ingenuity solving problems with task specific equipment, rather than having to adapt other items built for other purposes."

The Lemelson-MIT challenge is to solve a real-world problem, a problem Fox and other divers face.

"We probably took on the biggest challenge in terms of all the facets that are involved and how complex they can all be, to be quite honest," said Natick teacher Doug Scott.

The challenge is not necessarily just the invention itself, but managing the project and choosing the prototype's features are equally important.

"You have to identify for all of the requirements that you have what are the key requirements that you must meet? What your objectives are and what your threshold is," said Cynthia Blackwell, project leader for the JSAS Program Office at NSRDEC.

After much dialogue with NSSC employees the teams' thought process for the ROV(s) is subject to change.

"We really enjoyed the input (from NSSC)," said Adam Azanow, financial director for the Natick InvenTeam. After the team's presentations students asked questions of the NSSC employees gathered, "many of whom who stayed over an hour after our presentation ended."

The team is now in the process of drafting a "crane-like" idea for the ROV's deployment. Besides that, the team is researching a different idea for the ROV's structure.

"A newer, more creative idea was proposed to us," said Azanow. "Many of the ROVs we have seen, and built, have been in squares. As per suggestions from some representatives we are researching different -and literally out of the box- shapes for our ROV."

"The whole idea behind the whole project was that it has to be an invention of some sort," said Scott, "the goal is to put together something that was a vehicle that could replace the human diver from having to go out to location on the ice and search around."

Standard procedure for diving teams who do search and rescue missions involving ice is creating a new hole away from the entry hole someone may have fallen through. This invention would allow divers to continue to create a second point-of-entry while the ROV searched the murky waters for people and/or products that may have fallen into the ice.

"It is important to respect each other's thoughts and ideas," said Gary Proulx, NSRDEC engineer from the Prototype Shop. "Often the end-result is a hybrid of different ideas.

When offering advice on materials for the team's invention, Proulx wanted the students to, "keep in mind that this is a prototype. What you make might not be the biomaterial selection that you are going to use but you do want something that, in your short timeframe, is going to be cost effective and easy to work with."

Bob Kinney, NSRDEC business process manager, introduced the students to a "Gantt" chart which the team is now utilizing in order to streamline their design process.

"It is important for us to meet with professionals in this field," said Azanow, "so we don't waste time trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to process or administration, and another eye on design process and fabrication is always valued, especially from professionals from NSRDEC."

The major deadline the team has to face is a presentation on June 19, 2013 at MIT that will showcase their work. In the meantime, the team is hopeful to have a test prototype by February/March.