UROV - Initial Lighthouse Trip

The original lighthouse building, well maintained and still standing.

My name is Spencer Shaw and I am a third year computer engineering student. This is my third year being a part of the Cal Poly Robotics Club UROV team. I have contributed to hardware and software on the robot. Last year I was the project lead and this year I am the software lead.

Jared Peter-Contesse, this year’s project lead, and I were invited to visit the Point San Luis Lighthouse on February 16th in order to survey two cisterns that require repair. The lighthouse keepers (A wonderful group of mostly volunteers) contacted us through the Robotics Club and asked if we would be interested in using our robot to survey the cisterns. Surveying the cisterns lines up almost exactly with the mission tasks mandated by the MATE competition for which our robot is designed. While our timeline for completing the robot does not fit theirs for completing the repairs, both of us are still interested in collaborating.

Waves crashing on the shore below the lighthouse.

       Jared and I really enjoyed the excursion. The views from the location were wonderful! The lighthouse and surrounding buildings are kept in great shape by the keepers. Their constant dedication to this project shows in every detail of the grounds. Our contact and tour guide gave us a brief tour of the area and  the lighthouse’s history.

The two cisterns surrounded by safety fence with the lighthouse in the background.

While not sore thumbs, the cisterns themselves were not in as good of shape the rest of the facility. This is precisely why they are the next candidates on the restoration by the keepers.  Measuring 30 feet in diameter, the lids were clearly rotting. Approximately 13 feet deep, each cistern is meant hold on the order of 50,000 gallons of water. Originally they held water for the residents at the lighthouse for drinking and domestic use. After restoration, they will not be used because contaminants in the ground make the water unsafe and another water source is available.

The cisterns can each be accessed by a rectangular hole in the lid. The hole is over two feet wide which fits the specification of our robot.

The cover for the access hole of a cistern, tape measure for scale.

Our mission in this case would include checking the interior of each cistern for cracks or other damage. Main challenges for this include tether management and personnel safety. A jig will have to be made to ensure that the tether does not forcefully contact the lid of the cistern as the robot moves around inside. This will also have to be monitored by a team member. The team member will need to be very careful to not fall into the cistern and should be doubly cautious of the rotting portions of the lid. We may consider having them wear a harness in order to be anchored because our team’s safety is our priority.

We are extremely excited about this collaboration for two reasons. First, it will allow us to exercise our robot in a manner very similar to the specifications of the MATE competition. Second, it is an opportunity to not only give back to our community but also to connect with other members of the community outside Cal Poly and the history of the region.