It’s been a very long time since I posted about anything engineering-related, so here’s a dual Life and Eng/Sci-Tech blog post to break this dry spell. Today’s topic is about the job I have helping out the University of Michigan’s surface effect ship research group. For those of you that don’t know, a surface effect ship is basically a hovercraft with rigid sidewalls. The research group I’m working with is studying the operation of the “finger” seals that contain the cushion of air an SES rides on.
To understand how the seals react in a dynamic environment, there’s a lot of instrumentation that maps pressure inside the test craft, as well as optical instrumentation that captures how the fabric of the seals deform. There’s a lot of Matlab involved, so I don’t ask about the actual data processing.
My role in all this is to ruggedize the cameras so we can put them in a moist, possibly underwater environment. One of the most important pieces is PMDTec’s time-of-flight camera:
The device is really cool, not because it costs $10,000, but because it captures a 3D representation of what it sees. Basically, it uses a pulsed infrared light source and looks at the reflected intensities to gauge how far away objects are. From that information, it can rebuild a scene in 3D with a resolution of 200×200 pixels.
And I’m building an underwater camera enclosure for it. It’s a really cool challenge, having never done any pressure-critical design before. I’ve seen harsh-environment design at the Navy @ Lakehurst before, but airtight sealing is a new one. Integrating gaskets, O-rings, and designing an enclosure for minimal penetrations while retaining functionality is a difficult problem, and I’m starting to understand why typical enclosures for consumer grade cameras cost several hundred dollars. I also have to make sure the enclosure introduces as little optical interference as possible.
Basically, I get paid to do something I wanted to do as a personal project… and I learned Solidworks and keep my MechE skills sharp… and I get to play with a bunch of cameras… win!