Welcome to 2017 — 2018

Backdated: October 9, 2017

Welcome back to the Olin Aquatic Robotic Systems blog! We’re starting off the 2017–18 school year, and we’re also starting on a new project plan! Here are the details:

Most importantly, we’re starting this year on a five-year plan to build an autonomous sailboat that will cross the Atlantic Ocean. This year, our primary focus is setting a foundation for the next four: we’re establishing a solid code base, researching the strongest boat designs, and testing in a relatively controlled environment. By the end of the year, we want our first boat to autonomously sail on Lake Waban. In future years, we’ll build more boats, improve upon all of our work to make it more robust, and test in more unruly environments (Boston Harbor will be our next step).

Early testing, just to get the team familiar with the boat we have.

We’re really excited about this plan! However, in past years OARS has had a bit of trouble with commitment and organization. The leadership team is working particularly hard to combat that this year, especially since we have a relatively small team (fewer than 20 people). One of the biggest efforts we’re making is in forming and sticking to a solid plan. Our thought is that if we have a concrete plan and we execute it well, that will be exciting enough (especially when combined with activities like team bonding and the inherent excitement surrounding our project) to keep people committed and garner more support in the future.

In forming our plan, we divided the year into four phases. Each phase consists of multiple sprints in which we’ll be tackling a variety of necessary tasks, but each phase has a focus so that we know whether or not we’re on track. The phases are described below.

Phase 1: Damn Yankee Usability

Oct 11 — Nov 8

We’re taking an older OARS boat, Damn Yankee, and making sure it’s usable. While testing before winter is not going to happen, as long as Damn Yankee is usable in the spring, we’ll be ready to test as soon as the water is warm enough. This first phase covers the first two sprints, during which we’ll be ensuring that DY is robust enough for us to invest our time in.

Phase 2: Off-Season Training

Nov 8 — Dec 18

This phase is the one where we’ll really get into preparing DY for springtime testing. Sprints 3, 4, and 5 will center around rebuilding/replacing parts of DY until we trust that we can put it in the water without catastrophe. This phase will also be when the software subteam focuses on writing preliminary code so that we have something to test in the spring.

Phase 3: Theoretical Work

Jan 24 — Mar 7

When we get into the second semester, sprints 6, 7, and 8 will wrap up our time stuck inside. The mechanical subteam will be investigating boat designs and CADing our next boat. The software subteam will be working on navigation and using ROS.

Phase 4: Active Testing

Mar 7 — May 13

Our final phase will be when we get out on the water. Sprints 9–13 will all be testing time (although sprint 9 might move back to join Phase 3 if the water doesn’t warm up quickly enough). With regular water tests, we’ll be able to iterate through the end of this school year so we have a lot of functional knowledge to back us up next year.

We’ll be posting regularly (at the end of each sprint) in order to document our progress. Stay tuned for exciting news as we progress through the year!

~ Celina Bekins (Logistics subteam co-lead)