Year 2: Attack of the First Years!

It’s a new year of OARS, and with it comes lots of new people and new projects!

Our first meeting was well attended by prospective members, both first years and upperclassmen alike. We began the meeting with a quick intro presentation and then spent the rest of the meeting ideating and sketch modeling a grabbing device for our retrieval boat. (We’re retrofitting a boat with thrusters to be remote-controllable. We then plan to use this to fetch the sailboat if it stops working or becomes stuck.) Everyone enjoyed themselves while helping to generate some promising grabber ideas.

Sander, a first year, demonstrates his team’s proposed approach to grabbing a distressed sailboat with an RC retrieval boat.
Micah, a sophomore, shares a different idea for a grabbing mechanism.
Prospective Electrical Subteam members gather to learn about Arduinos and how one makes an RC boat.

In preparation for the new semester, some of our old members also spent some time swapping summer stories while cleaning out our storage container. The limited space was cluttered with old, non-functioning boat parts from years past. We reclaimed what we thought we might use and discarded the rest.

Returning members clear miscellaneous junk out of our storage container.

After the first meeting, which was to serve as an overview for prospective members, we returned to our regularly scheduled programming, with the express goal of having a final design for Hawsepiper by the end of the semester.

Mechanical

The Mechanical Subteam, with seven new members, is building six “Tinypipers.” These are 1/12 scale versions of Hawsepiper, each with a different hull shape. They aim to test them in the LPB pool and collect data concerning stability, drag, and hydrodynamics. By the end of October, they will have used this data to select the best hull shape. The month of November will be dedicated to creating “Minipiper,” a two-foot long boat that will be a scaled-up version of the best Tinypiper design. Minipiper will have an articulated wing sail and will be RC controlled, so we will be able to do some actual sailing with it, most likely in the Babson pool, with the aid of a fan. Making Minipiper will include sail design, so by the end of November we will have all the mechanical components of the boat built at ¼ scale. The rest of the semester — December — is for scaling up our Minipiper and doing any final modifications to make it into the full-fledged Hawsepiper.

Software

The Software Subteam happily welcomed 10 new members, with interests ranging from planning and controls to computer vision and web development. Two of the new members also have extensive experience with robotic sailing from high school, which the team as a whole plans to leverage as much as possible.

Much of the first two weeks was dedicated to getting familiar with ROS by way of the turtlesim tutorial, learning about path planning through the A* toolbox from the Software Design class, and playing with electronics that we’re either using currently or considering using on our boats.

Left: Deborah works on driving an e-ink display with a Raspberry Pi. Center: Shashank and Duncan fix a broken connector for Git Boat’s Airmar. Right: Jane, Katie F., Shirin, Shreya, and Solomon discuss path planning.
Deborah printed the team’s motto (“boats boats boats!!!”) to the Waveshare e-ink display.

At the end of the sprint, the team’s plus-delta reflection session revealed some minor shortcomings with organization and task management, but as a whole the team was positively engaged and psyched to work on an autonomous sailboat. As time goes on, they will find their bearings and get better at managing the recently tripled team size.

A plus-delta review session revealed lots of positive elements of the subteam, but also called out some areas for improvement.

Electrical

Another exciting development over the summer was the separation of the Software and Electrical Subteams. Through dealing with Git Boat, a laundry list of electrical wishes was created, and now there actually needs to be a dedicated Electrical Subteam. Chief among the list items is a PCB to consolidate connections and adapters, control power to peripherals, and enable battery monitoring. Thus, the newly formed team of four juniors, two sophomores, and two first-years quickly set to work.

With so many new people, the majority of the sprint was spent reviewing the electrical system of the previous boat. From there, the team moved on to PCBs and remote controllers. Members who were interested in PCB design worked through KiCad, the subteam’s schematic capture software of choice. Members building a control system for the retrieval boat toyed with the Spektrum RC controller and the boat’s thrusters. The team’s goals for the next sprint is to have a general idea of the design for the PCB layout and necessary components to provide the needed functionality and to have the retrieval boat remote controllable.

Moving forward

So far, we’re excited to see our team grow yet again. The latest headcount came in at a solid 33 members, which is roughly three times what we had at the end of last fall semester. Lots of collective time and energy is still being spent on onboarding, but hopefully before long everyone will be more or less up to speed and we can move forward with drastically increased momentum. There are surely plenty of challenges — both technical and managerial — ahead, but we’re eager and ready to tackle them head-on.