Aerial robotics team done in by a seemingly never-ending stream of forces beyond their control
special to Imprint
After keeping their heads high and hopes strong through trial after tribulation, the troops have finally returned home from the battlefield. Our very own Waterloo Aerial Robotics Groups (WARG) recently came back from Richland, Washington, where they competed in the 10th Annual International Aerial Robotics Competition from June 25 to July 1.
This year’s competition was especially important because it marked the final year of the competition’s three -year long millennium competition. The teams had to qualify in the competition in both 1998 and 1999 in order to compete this year. Each year, the objective of the competition changes, and this year’s was based on a search and rescue simulation. A natural disaster was simulated and the team’s aerial robot had to be able to fly into the disaster area and identify human bodies in areas too dangerous for human search and rescue teams to enter on the ground. The helicopter/robot had to be able to identify with the use of sensors the locations of human bodies, and whether they were dead or alive in order to be able to extract the survivors from the disaster area as quickly as possible.
WARG is a group of 10 to 15 Engineering students started in 1998 by Dave Kroetsch, and has competed successfully each year, qualifying for this year’s final leg of the competition. Unfortunately, the fates seemed to be against the team going to compete in Washington this year when their lab was broken into in May and valuable equipment and data was stolen. It was never recovered and the motive and thieves were never discovered. They also crashed one of their three helicopters just weeks before leaving for the competition. But the team persevered and recovered enough equipment and data in enough time to go to Washington.
Upon arrival in Richland, Washington, the team discovered that some of their equipment had been damaged in transit and they quickly had to work to fix it before their test flights. Hoping things had settled down, the team began test flights. Their helicopter crashed during one of the flights and they lost the blades and the tail, forcing them to order replacement parts, which never came. The group prepped their other helicopter but still ended up missing their flight for third qualifier position because the equipment they had added to solve a sensor problem weighed the helicopter down too much and it couldn’t lift off the ground.
Right about now you’re asking yourself, how could things have gone any worse? They could and they did. By the fifth day in Washington the teams received word that a car accident had caused a brush fire close to the competition’s site and that they may need to evacuate. The brush fire turned to a full-fledged forest fire destroying dozens of homes and hundreds of acres of woodland. The team had to get into the closed competition’s facility to try and rescue what of their equipment they could, should the wind have decided blow the fire further in their direction. Luckily, the team did not have to evacuate the area entirely. However, close to the competition’s site is Hanford Nuclear Treatment Plant, where hazardous radioactive waste is stored. The danger posed by the fire forced officials in the area to delay the competition while the area was checked for threat of radiation. Eventually the show went on and the team had high hopes of being able to compete after doing simulations and preparing for flight the day before the site was reopened.
WARG ended up placing sixth out of nine teams. During their recovery testing, due to technical problems, the signal didn’t make it from the control handset to the helicopter and it ended up hitting the ground at full speed. The helicopter was destroyed and they missed their chance to fly in the final round. The German team ended up winning the competition with a fully successful flight.
Through all of the frustrations and setbacks the team was forced to ordeal, they kept their spirits high and persevered together. The team rolled with the punches and adapted to everything that was thrown their way, showing great character and strong teamwork. David Wang, faculty advisor for WARG was quoted in the Daily Bulletin as having said, “This year’s team has shown tremendous character. They are disappointed with the results and al the roadblocks they have faced, but I am very proud of the way our students have tried to persevere.” Also according to the Daily Bulletin news put together by Rob Schmidt and Ryan Chen-Wing, the team intends on persevering even further by continuing work on the helicopters when they are delivered back from Washington, “We would like to prove to ourselves that we can do this.” The group is also anticipating next year’s rules (which come out in August) and are anxious to begin their new pursuit. Hopefully the fates will work with them instead of against them in next year’s competition and WARG will come out on top where their hard work and efforts deserves to be.
Imprint Online: News – Friday, July 14, 2000 (Volume 23, Number 6)
Filed under: WARG News