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Monday, December 4, 2023


Students engineer solar-powered robot


Three mechanical engineering and technology seniors from design team AquaForce innovated a solar-powered underwater robot and toy crickets to promote the role of technology in sustainability. | Diana Nguyen/The Daily Cougar

Mechanical engineering students from UH visited to Discovery Green on April 12 to share their innovative projects, including a remotely operated vehicle known as an “underwater robot,” while educating passers-by on how today’s technology plays a role in sustainability.

Among those students was senior design team AquaForce, which includes mechanical engineering and technology seniors Santos Ortiz, Christopher Munoz and Vicente Mora.

Team AquaForce designed and built a remotely operated underwater vehicle that it will enter in the Regional Marine Advanced Technology Education ROV Competition at the NASA Sonny Carter Training Facility.

“We’ve been working on it for two semesters,” Ortiz said. “The first semester, we designed it, we did all our research, and the second semester we actually fabricated it. We’ll be competing in the competition, which is our Underwater Robot Competition on April 26 at the NASA pool.”

An ROV is a tethered underwater robot made to perform specialized tasks in oil and gas, commercial shipping, salvage and ship industries, among others.  

Munoz said Team AquaForce designed its ROV to withstand 30 feet underwater and be able to visually inspect the water.

“It’s going to go 30 feet underwater, and it’s going to pick up debris, like assimilated debris from shipwreck,”  Munoz said. “We have two cameras placed on here so we can visually inspect the water. It can take pictures and video.”

The ROV is just a prototype for 30 feet, Munoz said.

“There are some advanced ROVs that are this size, but it would be more detailed and technical,” Munoz said. “It would take years to engineer.”

When asked whether AquaForce would be nervous about the upcoming MATE ROV competition, Mora said he feels confident.

“I’m pretty sure we can make a good tournament. We’re competing against A&M and San Jacinto College,” he said.

The MATE competition is judged upon the completion of the tasks — explore, document, and identify an unknown shipwreck, collect microbial samples, measure conductivity and remove trash and debris from the pool bottom.

Finance senior Dilip Gerba said he enjoyed conversing with the engineering students about solar energy and oil and gas.

“They know their stuff,” Gerba said. “I was impressed with their projects and the dedication they put into it. You wouldn’t naturally think of a connection between the engineering department and business, but they often interrelate. Solar PV is now cheaper than oil and gas, so it raises competition.”

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