McGill’s RoboSub Torpedoes Design Boundaries with 3D Printing

McGill Robotics will take part in the 17th Annual International RoboSub Competition, July 28 – August 3, 2014

robosub 3d printed mcgill robotics

CAD representation of the McGill Robotics’ Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (“RoboSub”). The team is using Stratasys FDM 3D Printers and Production Systems to create sturdy, end-use parts for the both the grabber mechanism and the torpedo launchers. All areas shaded in blue were 3D printed.

Bringing together over 100 students from more than a dozen university disciplines, the McGill Robotics team is fired up for their next competition! Veterans of robotics contests sponsored by NASA, which focused, naturally, on designs for aerospace, the 2014 McGill Robotics team is taking on a new challenge: an underwater robot (an autonomous underwater vehicle) named Asimov for the upcoming RoboSub competition.

Mechanical, electrical and systems engineers are working closely with software programmers to get Asimov in gear, and even some management students at McGill have joined the team to help with organizing fundraising, publicity and more!

After getting a taste of 3D printing on their last lunar robot project, an excavator designed for the moon’s surface, the McGill students are forging ahead with some 3D printed parts on their version of the RoboSub. Working closely with a Stratasys Applications Engineer, Dustin Kloempken, helps them fine-tune their underwater robot for the competition this summer.

Two representatives from McGill Robotics, Matt Mayers (recent Mechanical Engineering graduate) and Nicolas Tuech (entering his 4th year in Mechanical Engineering), graciously answered some questions for us about designing, building and running the robots. We were excited to learn how 3D printing is making a difference in the team’s design process, and also how McGill Robotics participants bring their incredible enthusiasm for STEM –science, technology, engineering and math — subjects to the next generation of Canadian students.

Stratasys Blog: What specific challenges do you have to overcome to build a robot for an underwater environment? Are you able to modify any parts or ideas that you used for the space robots or have you needed to start from scratch?

Matt and Nicolas: There are many challenges to consider when designing an underwater vehicle. The most obvious one is that all of the components need to be waterproofed. Part of our strategy is to house all the electronics within pressure vessels. Another crucial consideration is ensuring the center of buoyancy is well enough above the center of mass such that the vehicle is stable in the water. And, as anyone who’s ever driven a boat would understand, we have to account for the fact that the vehicle won’t maneuver with the same agility underwater as one would on land.

Stratasys Blog: How has having access to a 3D printer changed the way you approach designing and building the robots?

Matt and Nicolas: 3D printing has allowed us to think outside the constraints of conventional manufacturing, which has allowed us to experiment with really custom shapes that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to fabricate. We believe that as additive manufacturing becomes more prevalent in industry, understanding the design principles for it will be a valuable skill.

ST_Robotics_finalStratasys Blog: Is this underwater robot competition the first time the team has used 3D printed parts? Did individual members of the team have experience with 3D printing for other projects? Are they solely for a prototype of the parts or are they intended to be end-use parts?

Matt and Nicolas: This is the second time the team has taken advantage of additive manufacturing technology. Last year, our Lunar Excavator proudly featured 3D printed tires, which allowed for specifically customized properties. These were printed with material that was graciously donated by Stratasys on an Objet500 Connex Multi-material 3D Printer that is housed at the Laboratory for Integrated Prototyping and Hybrid Environments here at McGill.

This year, a Stratasys Applications Engineer, Dustin Kloempken, did a fantastic job manufacturing our grabber mechanism and torpedo launchers using polycarbonate material on a Fortus 400mc Production System. This material is suitable for our strength requirements and underwater performance. Additionally, Cimetrix Solutions is helping us develop our torpedoes using a Dimension 3D Printer. We’re making an effort to exemplify how 3D printing can be used for end-use parts, not just rapid prototyping.

To my knowledge, nobody has had any substantial experience using 3D printing prior to joining the team. The great thing about being part of a group like McGill Robotics is that you gain experience and knowledge that we wouldn’t necessarily find access to in a classroom.

Stratasys Blog: How long does it take to ready a robot for competition?

Matt and Nicolas: For the RoboSub competition, we began the design process in September 2013. The competition runs July 28-August 3, 2014. Fine tuning and perfecting the robot happens until the very last second!  I should also note that this is our very first time participating in this particular competition, whereas many of the other participants have been involved for many years. They’ve had a lot more time to refine their vehicles than we have, but we won’t let that stop us!

mcgill robotics team

The McGill Robotics team draws students from more than a dozen university disciplines to create and support building robots for annual competitions.

Stratasys Blog: Your website mentions that the McGill Robotics team does outreach to local schools — how do you engage the kids? How do they make robotics accessible to younger age groups?

Matt and Nicolas: McGill Robotics engages students at local schools of all age groups, from 7 years old all the way to 18. Robotics is not a conventional field of study for schools, who normally concentrate on general science, like biology, chemistry and physics. We view this as an opportunity to teach them about some fundamentals of robotics.

We also try to inspire younger generations by talking about McGill Robotics’ past projects. If the audience is 16 years or older, instead of going into fundamentals of robotics, we choose to elaborate more on robotics at a university level, as many of them are in the process of thinking about higher level education and what areas of study they would be interested in. This community outreach is an integral facet of McGill Robotics.

We’re thrilled that Stratasys 3D Printers and engineers have contributed to the incredible designs, prototypes and refinements of the RoboSub. Go McGill Robotics!

See how Asimov moved from initial designs to the deep end in this brief video.

ST_Robotics_finalThis post is part of our new series “Refreshing Robotics with 3D Printing”  which explores how additive manufacturing is shaping a variety of robotics applications. You can read all posts in the series here.

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

Leave a Comment

*