Who wants to be able to swim with your coral?

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halmus

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I've posted up a few ideas over the last year concerning the senior project my team is taking on at the University of Washington Tacoma campus. We are finally at the point where we can begin making real progress. We're in the Computer Engineering department at UWT and the requirements for our project are a little nebulous. Basically, we are to find a real world problem, and engineer a solution by integrating hardware and software components, including some micro-processor.

Here's the general proposal:

Many hobbyists have cameras they can access remotely (IP cameras, or USB cameras set up through something like Skype). This allows them a fixed viewing angle of their tank. What if they had a system mounted over their tanks that allowed them to move the camera throughout the tank?

Our prototype would be a 2 (or 3) - dimensional axis system similar to a CNC design that would fit below the lighting but could traverse throughout the tank. The possible third axis would allow the camera to change depth of the camera fixture in the water. The camera would also be able to rotate within the acrylic housing and tilt up and down.









A couple notes about the design:
1. This sketchup file shows the initial design which I admit is quite bulky. We would have to optimize the design so that it takes up as little space as possible.
2. Components and drive systems would clearly have to be made out of materials able to withstand the harsh environment of the typical marine aquarium hood with salt-creep and higher humidity.
3. The final design would have to ensure that certain cross-sectional areas of the aquarium be able to be designated "no-fly" zones. By "no-fly" zones, I am referring to regions like overflow boxes, or areas of heavy coral growth that you don't want to run into.
4. The initial design would be a stand-alone unit with a computer monitor and control box (thumb-joysticks) directly tethered to the system. The next step in the design would integrate the control and viewing screen into a computer Graphical User Interface (GUI) which ideally would be accessible remotely through a secure internet connection.

So, the question to the general community is, does this project interest you? If this were a commercially available product, would you consider purchasing a custom fit version for your aquarium? This is, of course, somewhat dependent on the price. We aren't seeking funding. Rather, we are gauging interest in the project to facilitate approval by the committee at UWT that approves or disapproves our project design. To those unfamiliar with the hobby, this sort of project seems like more of a novelty than a commercially viable solution to a problem. Any feedback is much appreciated.
 

reefman069

want more mini maxi
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hey Jacob. i think that is a very cool idea. i know i would like to buy something like that for my fish tank. the only problem i see with this idea would be coast. just thinking about what is all involved sounds like lots and lots of $"s. very cool idea tho.
 

halmus

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Thanks for the feedback Chad. Cost would be somewhat relative to the tank size. For those of you with football stadium sized tanks, there would need to be a little more square footage to cover, which does cost more in materials. However, the processors would remain the same for most sizes of tanks depending on specific functionality you want to achieve.

This sort of design could also be made to only traverse one side of the tank length-wise. Only one axis horizontal, and maybe a vertical axis up and down in depth. That would minimize it's interference with the tank but still allow for some great viewing!

You are right though, cost is a huge consideration when designing anything and whether it's marketable or not. We don't have any hard numbers yet for materials because we're still waiting on general approval before the design comes to life.
 

reefman069

want more mini maxi
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well i will have to fallow this thread. very cool. keep up the hard work. hey you got it all wrong. my tank is the size of a pool table not a football stadium. lol
 

NC2WA

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jacob,

very interesting idea....I have been pondering getting a GoPro to take some underwater videos, but this sounds a whole lot better even for us that have football stadium sized tanks. :)
 

Aquanaut

I Love Big Torts!
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Unless it has proximity sensors, what prevents un-intended fragging of our colonies as the camera moves about and is buffeted by our churning wavemakers or attacked by territorial fish.
 

1guydude

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Wat about.a pad that senses light and has wheels or jet propulsion for growing coral.in the wild. Aquacultured
U could.give it a.robot arm and some garden shears.too
D
 

halmus

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jacob,

very interesting idea....I have been pondering getting a GoPro to take some underwater videos, but this sounds a whole lot better even for us that have football stadium sized tanks. :)
Glad to have you follow along. I've had the idea in my head for quite a while. There are a lot of variations you can make from the design I drew above. Hopefully, the final product won't look much like that. Hopefully, we can make it much more streamlined.

Unless it has proximity sensors, what prevents un-intended fragging of our colonies as the camera moves about and is buffeted by our churning wavemakers or attacked by territorial fish.
You've hit on one of the major design factors we are considering. As far as the camera being moved by fish or water flow, that won't be an issue. The fixture will be precisely controlled by the supporting structure and a series of stepper motors. The camera unit won't be moved about by anything other than the person controlling it. However, my biggest concern in all aquarium related projects is the health and well-being of the animals themselves. I won't get into proximity sensors right now, but we are planning a way to prevent the camera system from running into rock, coral, and any aquarium structures. The basic plan is to have a "learning mode". Press a button, and move the camera module around the perimeter of the tank carefully avoiding rock, coral, and overflow boxes. Once done, the microprocessor has mapped out and "learned" the layout of the tank and the areas it's not allowed to travel to. The same process could be repeated for interior "islands" or zones you don't want it to run into in the middle of the tank. All of this could be repeated as coral grows in or changes are made to the aquascaping. We had considered some active "obstacle avoidance" capabilities but implementing these would involve more time, research, and testing than we will have available over the next year.

Wat about.a pad that senses light and has wheels or jet propulsion for growing coral.in the wild. Aquacultured
U could.give it a.robot arm and some garden shears.too
D
Thanks D. Robot arm.
 

1guydude

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Does neboulous mean the guidline for ur project is vague?
Lol
Glad u got something from that...prob not a technical term "robot arm".
When I 1st saw ur diagram, I thought pullys...
Kool project man. Trim some fat off that. Also I'd b worried about the rust n oil
D
 

halmus

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Golden, Co
Does neboulous mean the guidline for ur project is vague?
Lol
Glad u got something from that...prob not a technical term "robot arm".
When I 1st saw ur diagram, I thought pullys...
Kool project man. Trim some fat off that. Also I'd b worried about the rust n oil
D
Ya, by nebulous, I mean that the project isn't well defined. We aren't being given very specific direction from the University. We are just supposed to identify some problem and engineer a solution using hardware and software. That gives us a lot of freedom, but it also doesn't give us much direction. I had quite a few hobby-related problems I presented to the team and this was the one the rest of the team liked the most.

You're right that we need to "trim some fat". I've been going over ideas in my head to minimize the hardware being used and we will definitely have to use items that will stand up to abuse around the saltwater. We want to stay away from anything that will need to be oiled, for obvious reasons.
 

JasonD

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You could limit the camera to top down shots. This would avoid the interference issue with the reef structure. The top down angle is the most spectacular way to view corals and we almost never get to see it unless we use a viewing box. It would also be cool to attach an automatic feeder to the camera. That way you can feed your fish anytime and anywhere. You could watch them eat and make sure you are feeding the right amount. You could get some amazing footage and would train the fish to not be scared of the camera.
 

Peppie

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Great project!!

My first thought is... This would be very difficult to make it cost effective for a established tank. Stand, hood, lights.
If it were a kit for a new tank system build you could design the system to accommodate the structure that supports the CNC type mech.

My thoughts. needs to be an underwater camera and much much smaller that in the above drawing. The legs for the structure need to disappear. the gears and linked chain should be pulleys and tensioned rubber lines. I am not an engineer!! Just thinking out loud.

Would I buy it??? Probably not. It wont do maint. It doesnt contribute to the over all health of the tank. The extra cost of the unit, plus the extra cost of designing the system to accommodate the system.

But it does add a HUGE cool factor to your tank.

If I made my living studying corals it would be a must have for up close, long term observation .
 

halmus

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You could limit the camera to top down shots. This would avoid the interference issue with the reef structure. The top down angle is the most spectacular way to view corals and we almost never get to see it unless we use a viewing box. It would also be cool to attach an automatic feeder to the camera. That way you can feed your fish anytime and anywhere. You could watch them eat and make sure you are feeding the right amount. You could get some amazing footage and would train the fish to not be scared of the camera.
Thanks for the feedback and the idea! I did briefly consider the skycam type approach lying in bed the other night. I was trying to think outside the box. It's something we're going to have to look into more. The problem it presents from an engineering standpoint is that the algorithm to control the pulleys would involve some complex math functions. Figuring out the control would be fun and challenging. We will consider that as an option.

As far as a top-down viewing angle, that will be included as an option no matter what apparatus is housing the camera. The camera will be able to tilt to view horizontally across the tank or tilt to look straight down.
 

halmus

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Great project!!

My first thought is... This would be very difficult to make it cost effective for a established tank. Stand, hood, lights.
If it were a kit for a new tank system build you could design the system to accommodate the structure that supports the CNC type mech.

My thoughts. needs to be an underwater camera and much much smaller that in the above drawing. The legs for the structure need to disappear. the gears and linked chain should be pulleys and tensioned rubber lines. I am not an engineer!! Just thinking out loud.

Would I buy it??? Probably not. It wont do maint. It doesnt contribute to the over all health of the tank. The extra cost of the unit, plus the extra cost of designing the system to accommodate the system.

But it does add a HUGE cool factor to your tank.

If I made my living studying corals it would be a must have for up close, long term observation .
Dave-

You are right on with all points.

Space is a huge limiting factor. The legs would disappear for any real system used above an aquarium. They're only there for the demonstration prototype we have to mock up for presentation purposes. The gears and chain would at least be changed to a rubber "synchronous" belt. Most likely, we'll end up using something altogether different for the "drive train". The sketch was just a starting point to get us thinking, and facilitate the good feedback we're getting from all of you. :)

You are also right that it doesn't contribute to the health of the tank. But, that doesn't stop many of us from adding bells and whistles to our tanks. Cool factor. :)

I plan on incorporating a single piece of extruded aluminum into my next tank's lighting system that will allow a camera fixture to move down the center, the entire length of my tank. That will eliminate all of the bulky side-to-side supporting equipment. However, I'll still be able to view the whole range of the tank through rotating and tilting the camera. The idea is pretty modular. It could run the length of the tank on just one side. It could be stationary in one corner but still offer pan/tilt and vertical movement to pull it out of the water. We're just adding a lot of extra movement to this project to make it more impressive, but that comes at a cost of possibly being clumsy or bulky. Engineering trade-offs. Thanks for the feedback.
 

halmus

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We finally placed a couple big orders with some online retailers. 8020 on Ebay is a great source for extruded aluminum and fittings. Servo City is where we got all the gears, bearings, mechanics for the project so far. Circuit Specialists has been our go-to source for stepper motors and electronics components.

Here's our incomplete "parts" table set up in my makeshift shop (what was once my wife's garage).







I had to sort out and store all the little components so I knew what I had to work with.



I ordered 10' of plastic chain. This isn't the most ideal drive system, but we are on a budget and a timeline. This was the quickest and easiest drive system we could put together. CNC's use a type of threaded rod to drive their mechanisms but we don't need the precision that a threaded rod can provide, and the chain will allow us to more easily drive the assemblies back and forth faster. We will be able to set the max speed of travel in the software. We don't want to scare the fish. We also don't want it to take 5 mins to travel across the aquarium.

The plastic chain came in individual links. Imagine putting 10' of this together. After doing some assembly, I'm realizing that I'll have to order another 10'. I can't wait.



This is what we got done in a few hours of work yesterday. The aluminum sections that extend past the horizontal pieces will eventually be cut down. We left them long because we wanted to have plenty of room to work with while we assemble this and work out the bugs. Also, we aren't absolutely set on the final height above the water. That will depend somewhat on the camera housing and how compact we can make it.



To really make this a viable product, it still needs to take up less space. However, we're computer engineers, not mechanical engineers. We just want to get a prototype put together and working. The control systems, electronics, and software are what we're most concerned with. If this was ever really considered as a product, we'd let the big brains in mechanical engineering optimize everything for us.

A side note, after working on this a little, I'm realizing that it's probably not reasonable to have 3-axis on a tank like this. However, I'm still convinced that it is totally do-able to have a single track built into my light rack to allow the camera to move the length of the tank and still be able to see everything. We're just trying to add some complexity to the project for the challenge.

Scaling this up to a bigger tank, the same basic hardware could be used by only extending the aluminum rails. At that point, the rack would start to look less bulky relative to the size of the tank. Either way, our build already is more compact that what we drew up in sketchup. We're using multiple DIY gear systems to provide torque to smaller motors. I'll keep posting pictures as this comes together. The work yesterday gave us a good baseline of what parts we still need and how this will come together as a unit.
 

halmus

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This was a quick test to see if the current stepper motor we have on hand will drive this so far. It doesn't have to move much yet, but the test was promising. We were able to put quite a bit of pressure on the linear bearing and not stop the motor.


I'm still hobbling around on crutches, but I have a wooden leg on hand from the last time I broke that foot. It gives me a little freedom in the shop.



We're currently messing around with a Raspberry Pi microcontroller for the video. One of the team had video streaming through it yesterday. It looked good even through an acrylic box I made to submerge in the 40b frag tank I have in the garage.

 

halmus

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Here's a small update video:


And some updated pictures:





We also have plans to attend the PSAS Bob Moore Frag swap in Feb.

We are hoping to have the initial prototype working by then. If so, we'll be hosting a booth there for kids (and us big kids) to play around with the system. We'll have the frag tank full of water (and maybe some of the PSAS give-away frags) for everyone to navigate around. Don't worry, we won't have anything big enough in there to worry about people running into if the obstacle avoidance isn't working by then.
 

zip70

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Kent, WA
Look very cool ! I like it. At first I thought you guys just were talking. I know now it is real.:clap2:
 

halmus

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Thanks for checking it out zip. It is real! But, it's not alive yet. We've gotten a lot of work done on various elements that will be critical to the project, but they aren't all integrated together yet. It's a balancing act of fitting in time when I can, making it to the laser cutter to cut out some pieces that I overlooked, and waiting for parts in the mail.

We've finally started wiring in the motors and some of the sensors we'll be using to monitor movement.













And, we've got the case put together to hold the power supplies, the microcontroller, and all the supporting circuitry. We still have to machine the fan covers and finish wiring up the actual hand controller once a few parts come in.





The camera housing and all the supporting structure is coming along. We're waiting on a few parts for that also.
 
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