Tinkering with a state-of-the-art robot is the stuff dreams are made of for many young engineers. This might explain why two co-op students who worked for UVic’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Team (AUVic) couldn’t seem to tear themselves away from the 20 kg, acrylic-hulled, submersible robot that served as their work term project.

Engineering students Mike Mutrie and Niko Rebenich each spent a co-op term working with AUVic, a group of approximately 20 mechanical, electrical, software, and computer engineering students actively involved in building an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) — a submersible robot capable of performing intelligent tasks without aid from human operators. Thanks to Mutrie’s and Rebenich’s assistance, UVic’s robot can inspect the ocean floor at incredible depths, drop objects into targeted areas, navigate specific paths, and record images.

Mutrie and Rebenich had both volunteered with AUVic before they were hired as co-op students. Student volunteers keep AUVic moving forward, but Matt Burdyny, AUVic team leader, says the group could not have continued making superior progress without the assistance of the SLIP grant. “The financial support proved to be an integral part of our day-to-day functions,” he says. “The co-op program has provided an excellent opportunity for students like Mike and Niko to get involved in highly technical problems while supplementing their education at the same time.”

Mutrie and Rebenich brought different skills to the project. Mutrie, who is a mechanical and electrical engineering student, worked as AUVic’s test engineer, while Rebenich used his computer engineering knowledge in his role as electronics and computer engineer.

“I gained knowledge not just in the field of electronics but also in all other areas of engineering,” says Rebenich. “In AUVic, you don’t have to be an expert in all fields but you need to have enough knowledge in all those fields to communicate with each other effectively.”

Mutrie also appreciated learning new skills from his team members. He knew almost nothing about circuitry before working with AUVic, but was nearly an expert by the end of his work term. “It was exciting when I finally tested the circuit that I had developed for the test tank,” he says. “Seeing that it actually worked was payoff for all my hard work.”

It was the chance to attend the annual Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) competition in San Diego, however, which stood out for Mutrie as the most worthwhile part of his work term. “It was a great experience,” he says. “I got to travel with AUVic for 12 days — both the hardest work and hardest play I’ve ever experienced!”

AUVic is a group of mechanical, electrical, software, and computer engineering students from the University of Victoria that is actively involved in building an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).For more information about the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Team, visit www.engr.uvic.ca/~auv PHOTO: Mike Mutrie displays a circuit board like th one he helped design for AUVic.