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William Howard preps T.I.M. for its camera function test.
William Howard preps T.I.M. for its camera function test.

One Small Step for T.I.M.

William Howard preps T.I.M. for its camera function test.
William Howard preps T.I.M. for its camera function test.

By Troi Charity


Four years ago, William Howard and the GPC Computer Science and Engineering Club (CLASEC) created a deep sea probe prototype made out of foam. Howard now attends Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) and is one step closer to achieving his goal of receiving information from the world’s largest deepsea trench, the Mariana.

“This is pretty much his [Howards] baby,” said GPC Professor Fredrick Buls who served as an adviser for the project.

The partnership with GPC and SPSU tested the functions of the newly built vessel named Taking Images in Mariana (T.I.M.) on Nov. 17 in the Clarkston
campus pool.

To help with the transport of T.I.M. in and out of the water, Buls created a crane with 230 pounds as a counter balance.

“We already did a test this past Saturday evening,” said Buls. “Things went well, but the onboard camera failed so that no underwater pictures were obtained.  We also had a leak in one of the windows on the vessel late in the test. These two things ended the test prematurely, and this is why we’re going back to the pool on Sunday.”

The function experiment was to test the overall functionality of T.I.M which included its camera and video function, its reading of temperature and pressure and to determine if there are any leaks.

The Mariana is approximately 6.7 miles deep and according to Howard, there are only a few vessels in existence that can make a similar trip.

“The other vessels that are out today are intended to do everything,” said Howard. “ One thing we have noticed is the approach going deep into the ocean is similar to going to Mars.”

TI.M. is approximately 400 pounds and after the function test is sealed tight.

“Not any leaks,” said Howard. “After the camera test the vessel was completely dry on the inside.”

The idea for the voyage to the Mariana came from the success of three M.I.T students photographing the earth with just simple materials and wanted to do the same. Howard pointed out that T.I.M. is M.I.T. spelled backwards.

“Since there hasn’t been a similar system, why don’t we have that,” said Howard.” They went up, we are going down.”

According to Howard, submersibles are battery powered and not nuclear.

“You can never get away with sending something nuclear,” said Howard. “ You have to use batteries. Vessels that use batteries can only stay down for a short amount of time.”

T.I.M. has two battery components. One battery is just for the computer system and another that powers four 1,000 lumen flashlights. Lumens is the measure of light intensity.

Howard thinks that T.I.M. is able to stay submersed for approximately 72 hours and was build for less than $4,000 in materials.

“One of the reasons it was built so cheaply is because we used off-the-shelf items,” said Howard.

T.I.M. has two layers. On the inside there is a 12-inch diameter carbon steel pipe and on the outside a 16-inch pipe of polycarbonate, which is a plastic. Both pipes are carbon steel, only the windows are polycarbonate.

The previous model was made out of spray insulation foam with 2 ½ inch thick plexiglass windows.

The older model helped shape the newer model in many ways, according to Howard.

“How we laid out some of the computer equipment turned out to be pretty accurate,” said Howard.

A single standard SD Memory card is planted inside to record all the data and run the system.

To prepare for conditions down in the Mariana, the team simulated fish in red and black colors and tied them to a plastic pipe to test T.I.M.’s photo and video quality.

They turned off lights to see how well the camera captured information.

“1600 feet down you’ve past the penetrative limit of sunlight,” said Howard.

There was a previous function test prior to the Clarkston testing. The results of the previous test showed there were leaks.

“This has been a constant for four years,” said Howard “ Countless hours, and 1 a.m. mornings. I’ve devoted a lot of my life.”

Howard has gotten help from companies with materials and  advice.

“Over the past few years, while attending SPSU and working  3/4 time, William has designed and built the present version,” said Buls. “To accomplish this, he’s made use of several machine shops, he’s asked a lot of advice from experts and has just spent a lot of time and effort in the process.”

SPSU students Ken Gibson, Zeeshan Chaudhary and Karl-loic Kamdem are responsible for the technology inside of T.I.M.

“We constructed the computer system,” said Kamdem. “We did the sequence, picture taking, video taking and collecting all that data within the system.”

The sequence Kamdem is referring to is T.I.M.’s ability to capture ratings every 10 seconds. Also T.I.M. flashes his lights every 10 seconds and captures images every minute.

According to Howard, the reason is because there are a couple of species of fish that are not accustomed to light. In order to draw them near and record them the sequence is used to help them get used to light.

T.I.M. went through three different testing stages that included an empty shell and then surfacing twice to gather data.

“The main thing to prove is that it is reusable,” said Howard. “By dropping it into the ocean, pulling it out, getting the information and then dropping it again.”

In Howards opinion the test was a success and that they are closer to reaching the Mariana.

“We definitely achieved everything we wanted to achieve,” said Howard. “Everyone pulled off their parts and now we can do real-world testing.

The team’s next test will take place at a rock quarry with a depth of approximate 38 feet. They assume that T.I.M. will sit probably between 30-35 feet beneath the surface. It will be intended to test its endurance for 72 hours of operation and functionality in cold water.

Professor Buls explained how Howard plans to sink and resurface T.I.M. by using a bag of rocks and then barrels of  diesel.

“The idea is to use barrels of  diesel because it’s less dense than seawater,” said Buls. Gasoline will provide buoyance. To take it down, they will use a bag of rocks and at some point the rocks will detach.”

After the testing, Howard is going to keep increasing the depth level until he ultimately reaches the Mariana. Beforehand he plans to go to the Gulf of Mexico and then to the Pacific Ocean.

Even if Howard doesn’t reach the Mariana he is still optimistic that someone will.

“I’m positive that if we  were to go there right now, that we have a 50/50 chance,” said Howard.

Some of T.I.M.s readings included a temperature change within the vessel from 22 degrees Celsius to 42 degrees Celsius with clear picture while submersed.

(Photo by: Troi Charity)

About Troi Charity

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  • Karl-Loic

    I could not have described T.I.M. any better