So how many Florida Keys Community College students does it take to build and activate an underwater robot capable of performing a specific task, like snipping an underwater cable?
The answer is six, along with the help of students from other institutions, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense.
FKCC students did just that during a two-semester long project called "Perseus," which federal government and school officials say will go a long way toward answering questions about whether and how such applications can work in a real-world environment.
"The Perseus demonstration, associated presentations, and reports will provide Department of Defense and related stakeholders insight into a number of rapidly evolving technical areas of interest, through the innovation of America's next generation of engineers and scientists," said FKCC spokeswoman Amber Ernst-Leonard.
The objective of Perseus was to explore whether someone with modest funding could create in a relatively short period of time an unmanned underwater vehicle, remotely operated vehicle or autonomous underwater vehicle capable of conducting a specified mission. It also provides a venue for students to demonstrate their multidisciplinary engineering skills.
Perseus culminated with the teams demonstrating their skills by running their underwater vehicle in the Florida Keys.
FKCC students were joined by other undergrads from Florida Atlantic University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology, all in courses of study spanning naval, mechanical, computer and computer science engineering. They handled the project under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Rapid Reaction Technology Office. They worked under the guidance of faculty advisers from their respective schools, with money supplied by the DOD.
In addition to engineering, the students on the FKCC team had majors in nursing and biology.
The final demonstration site was at FKCC in the Keys.
Harold Davis, a computer engineering major at FKCC, said he has always had an interest in remote-control vehicles. That's why the opportunity to participate piqued his interest.
"I found it interesting," the Onslow County, N.C., native said. "It was a standard robot operation procedure. And it looks good on college transcripts and job applications."
While teams from the other schools consisted of juniors and seniors, the FKCC group was made up of freshmen and sophomores.
The FKCC underwater vehicle was deemed a success.
The students from there created a battery-powered, eight-motor, PVC pipe prototype dubbed "Wrecker." Outfitted with cameras and a compass, the FKCC students steered "Wrecker" via an Xbox remote control directly to the underwater cable located 40 feet down, and severed it.
"It was during just the initial practice run," Ernst-Leonard said. "Surprising and impressing both supporters and skeptics."
The project was twofold.
"We do this for two reasons: one is for the schools and we've got four good schools," explained Glenn Fogg, Director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Rapid Reaction Technologies Unit, based in Washington, D.C. "From the DOD perspective, the idea is to find out what non-traditional approaches would work. If it were navy-trained guys, they would all look at the traditional ways; these guys aren't constrained.
"One used a drill for power, one used bilge pumps for power, and another used a lobster buoy they hollowed out to be covert."
For FKCC freshman Devin Jaccquette, the project was cause for excitement and pride, a crowning point of his college years.
"We had our challenges, but when you enjoy something, you are going to be better at it," he said.