Saturday, March 26, 2011


After completing the three sites by the Tas Silg temple, we still had some extra time before our van was scheduled to come pick us up so we took the opportunity to walk down to the nearby fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It is a fairly small town but is mentioned in many of the guidebooks as a place to visit for the many colorful fishing boats and general fishing atmosphere there.

We were not disappointed. Once we got through the tents set up selling souvenirs to tourists, we saw the many colorful wooden boats in the harbor set against the beautiful blue sky and typical Maltese style architecture.

It was also fun to observe the fishermen at work, tending to their nets, painting their boats and going about their daily routine. Before we headed back up to the temple site, we stopped at a small café for coffee and cake. In addition to the tasty food, it provided a good opportunity to spend some time together just soaking in the peaceful atmosphere and reflecting on our time in Malta (which has been busy and amazing and sadly coming to end).

Friday, March 25, 2011


Being friends with someone is one thing. Living with them for a month, is something else. We have now been together for almost a month. We have come to know each other at a very different level - almost all really good.

One of us in particular, is known for his great knowledge, accurate assumptions, and reasonable claims. We know him as Billy. As one of seventeen children he has had no choice but to be infallibly superior.

Here are a few nuggets of his knowledge:

"Chris is short."

"Some birds fly down."

"If it has a front and a back and floats, it's a boat."

"Just hit 'em with a chair!"

"It takes everyone a long time to learn a new game."

"So the shorter you are, the bigger the ape factor."

"When I run, I run for hours." How often do you run? "Never. I ran a lot in P.E."

"I wasn't scared at all, I was like pumped!"

"Chris can't reach it. Basketball it is!"

"What's outside that I can't find on the internet?"

"This is not chicken. There's fur on this. These must be rabbit wings."

"Technically, buffaloes don't have wings."

Maybe you'll be lucky enough someday to hear some of his knowledge first hand... :P

Tas Silg Temple

We had an incredible opportunity to access an archeological site restricted to the public to investigate the cisterns on site. The temple has a great deal of history... from being a pre-historic site of worship, to a Roman temple that stood as a beacon from the bay below. One interesting feature of the temple was the clay walkway that surrounded the center of the temple (only about half still in tact) that was patterned with evenly-spaced square pieces of marble. Our archeologist on site, David, said that this was a way of defining a "medium" for extremely important ground and common ground. It was a mix, making it a sort of semi-formal site. The temple was of course in ruins above ground, but was currently being excavated for further discoveries in the area. There was a full-immersion baptism site, signs of large columns to hold the roof, and clear signs of divisions within the temple.

The cisterns, however, we more intact underground than the remains above ground. The first cistern was square with 4 hallways in each direction. One was too shallow to investigate, and was even hardly noticeable, as the water level only allowed us to see the slit of the bottom of the hallway. The other three hallways led to large rooms filled with rubble. Each of these rooms had at least two off-shoots that showed signs of even more caves. Unfortunately, all of these accesses were too shallow for the ROV to pass.

The second cistern was similar, but only one hallway was deep enough to explore. This hallway was back towards the first cistern. Once we reached the end of the hallway, it was clear that this hallway connected the two. Below, you can see the mosaic of the sonar images we gathered from the cistern. As you can see, this was a very complex and exciting cistern.

We explored one more cistern out in a nearby field, but it was only a circular well with no outlets. Below is the group with our archeologist, David, at the temple site.

More Data Processing (i.e. Spring Break on Malta)

So despite this week being our "Spring Break" back home, the majority of hours this week were spent on our computers attempting to organize the massive amounts of data that we've collected during our time here.

One priority was creating a database with Microsoft Access . There wasn't much experience working with the program, but after some tutorials and some figuring, we were able to organize a great deal of our data in one convenient location. Here is a partial screenshot:

This gives easy access to locations, latitudes and longitudes, depths, videos, sonar scans and more. Timmy reviewed it earlier today and was "speechless" which I believe makes the entire trip a success.

But it's not all database stuff. Visualizations need to be created / debugged using the data, pictures and videos need to be sorted, blogs need to be written. and backups of everything need to be made. Not to mentioned prepping our equipment for travel by cleaning and organizing it. We're also creating DVDs for people on Malta that have helped us in our explorations which includes owners and archaeologists. After creating videos, mosaics, compiling data and creating a database, the DVDs will have 1,337 files of our time here. A number to be extra proud of!

So for those that are terribly jealous that our spring break is in beautiful Malta, realize we've been working non-stop! But continue being jealous.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cistern Models

This last week we have been working hard to process the data we collected the first three weeks. This includes creating a database with detailed information on the sites we visited, as well as using the sonar data to create 3D models of the cisterns, wells, and water galleries. Below are two pictures of one of the cisterns from house da ta'ana. The picture on top is textured using cylindrical coordinates, while the picture on the bottom is textured with spherical coordinates.

On the Radio

Dr. Timmy Gambin and Dr. Christopher Clark were recently interviewed about the project for the series "University Matters" on the Malta University Broadcasting station 103.7 FM. Here is a link to the podcast:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cirwekka Diving

Brig has been looking into diving since the day we arrived, and he finally got the chance to plan an excursion when we were snorkeling at Golden Bay on Saturday. Other members of the group wanted to dive with Brig, but as none of us are certified we decided to snorkel at the dive site instead. When we awoke Monday morning it was pouring rain and many of us were considering staying home, but we all decided to go anyway. The dive school led us to a dive site in northwest Malta called Cirkewwa. Upon arrival our decisions were rewarded with flat clear water, no rain, and a little sunshine as well. With almost perfect conditions we jumped in the water and immediately saw groups of fish and a few jellyfish. During our lunch break many of us saw dolphins playing in the distance, and Christina found a colony of hermit crabs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mdina Archives 3D Cistern Visualization

On Wednesday (3/16/11), we went to Mdina to explore another cistern at The Archives of the Cathedral of Malta. This cistern was especially interesting because of its shape. The cistern consisted of a shaft down the center and two bell-shaped cisterns branching off. The smaller cistern's access point was at about 16 meters underwater down the shaft, while the larger cistern's access point was at about 22 meters down the shaft. Gathering enough sonar data for this cistern was very difficult due to the complexity of two cisterns in one. It was difficult to navigate between cisterns through the shaft while keeping track of the distance moved and the orientation of the ROV. We collected 50 sonar scans in all where 15 of them where side-scans. (The sonar was rotated sideways to collect vertical data of the cisterns).

Over the past few days, Chris and I have been analyzing this data and creating sonar mosaics (the compilation of multiple sonar scans to create a map) in order to create a 3D map of the entire cistern. So far, we have created a 3D map and now I am handing it off to Christina for her to transform it into a pretty 3D visualization. The image below represents a map of the entire cistern, which includes both of the sub-cisterns. (This is before Christina's visualizations). You can see the smaller cistern on the left that branches out from the shaft and the larger cistern is on the right. This map was generated with the sonar data using the sonar mosaics to calculate the ROV position at each of the scans and also SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) to help better align the individual scans.

Data Processing!

After a few weeks of gathering huge amounts of raw video data it's crunch time! On the left is a computer being used to edit the massive amount of video collected by the ROV into small ~1-4 minute representations of each cistern. Billy, as seen on the right, is creating a 3D map of a cistern with a program he coded almost from scratch.
Some of the challenges I have found with editing the video is a lack of clear video as well as video that shows the ROV moving around the cistern in a fashion that allows anyone to understand where they are in relation to the starting point. Luckily, we have managed to collect so much video that I have been able to splice together many of the video files to create a short and cohesive video for most of the cistern locations we have visited.

Billy and I working side-by-side pushing through all of the collected data

Creating a video of the inside of a cistern by piecing together smaller portions of video taken by the ROV.

Timmy can win a singing contest using sign language.

Chris's Day

This Saturday was Chris's last day in Malta before he left to rejoin his family in San Luis Obispo. Chris really wanted to visit a place on Malta that he had not been before during this, and his previous visits. So, looking through our guidebook, he stumbled upon Golden Bay.

Golden Bay is a small inlet with a sandy beach, small waves, and a great place to go snorkeling. Despite the looming clouds, snorkeling took place by some, while half of us, me included, decided to lay out on the beach enjoying the sunshine while it was still around. Zoe and Tyler dug a big hole - which Tyler decided to sit in. Later, Tyler and Andy went exploring - ending up on the top of large overhanging cliff to the right of the beach, while Joe, Zoe, and I fell asleep, napping in the sun.

After the snorkelers got back, we all went on a short hike up to the top of the overhanging cliff on the left side of the beach where an old abandoned watch tower stood. We then hiked up the hill further to some more abandoned buildings.

After watching the clock closely we headed back down to the bus stop to catch the last bus out of the area at 5:05 pm - and as usual, it was Mr. Toad's wild ride the whole 30 minute ride back to Sliema.

Everyone was happy and tired getting back to the apartment - a very needed restful day, full of exploring and good times.

A Break in the Action

During our trip to the archive in Mdina there was a brief period when our host at the archive had to take a lunch break, so we decided to take the opportunity to walk around the beautiful Silent City and get a quick snack. We cruised into one of the local restaurants for some cake and drinks. Each one of us chose a different cake, trading bites of our slice for others that also looked delicious. I also tried a local soft drink called Kinnie that a few of us decided tastes like a cross between ginger ale and root beer.

Afterwards, we headed to the Eastern wall of Mdina to overlook the far side of the island. Mdina is on the West side of Malta, but seeing to the Eastern coast was no trouble from our vantage point. We also took the opportunity to snap a group photo before heading back to finish up with the archive.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More Projected Geometry

Projected geometry has improved! Surface extraction for a cistern has made it through the pipeline and (as shown below) is now visualized. At the moment, we have a simple keyhole cistern... one of the most common outline shapes for cisterns. It is interesting to see how the sonar scans picked up other objects at the level of the scan that have been interpolated into vertical barriers (seen as pillars).

In addition to surface extraction, I now have multiple projections that can be merged together as a mosaic on the wall of the cistern. Below you can see the mosaic merged together in Microsoft Word on the left. On the right, the same mosaic is replicated in the 3D environment on a wall of the keyhole cistern. The images are actually taken from the ISIS boat trip. On the ISIS, we recorded the ROV's video of the shipwreck. From the video, I took screenshots that represent sequential frames of different features of the shipwreck. With a little patience, I put the images together (as accurately as I could) to represent the shipwreck.

This process will be the same for combining images from the all of the surveyed sites with their corresponding geometry. The mosaic process of projective texturing still has a lot of work to help streamline the process more. Just for the record... this is all REALLY cool :P

Work Day and Beach Picnic

We decided to stay at the apartment on Friday and get a lot of work done. We each worked on something different as there were a lot of things that needed (and still need) to be done. I started to look at the data we collected from the AUV run the other day while others worked on documenting data and procedures, visualizations, and creating mosaics of the sonar scans from the cisterns (among other things). It was also exciting to see the first run of SLAM on the archives cistern and how our work is finally coming together.

For lunch, we decided to take a break and take a picnic lunch to the beach just a block from our apartment. It was a gorgeous day out and the sunshine and fresh ocean air were a welcome relief to all. We walked along the rocky shore and looked for fish, shrimp, crabs and other small marine life in the tide pools before settling down for lunch.

After lunch, Tyler, Chris and I took the opportunity to go for a short swim in the Mediterranean. The water was chilly but not too bad and we really wished we had brought goggles down with us to see more in the beautiful blue water. It was very relaxing out there though and interesting to note how much saltier the water here is compared to the Pacific ocean. As we were getting out, Tyler also helped a Maltese women pick some sea grass/plants from the side of the rock. She was very happy and told us that she cooks it and that it's good for her heart. Who would've known.

St. Agatha's

Last Wednesday(the 16th) we had a great opportunity to head back to Mdina and Rabat and revisit a couple of sites that we were unable to reach in the first 2 weeks due to time constraints or unexpected problems that arose. One such site was St. Agatha's catacombs.

This is another catacombs site in Rabat and is basically across the street from St. Paul's catacombs, which we visited during our first week in Malta. One of the water features was located in one of the gardens in the historical complex near the entrance to the catacombs. This site was mostly dried up, and barely contained enough water to drive the ROV around. We took a couple of sonar scans for good measure, and decided to move on since the space was small and we knew not much data could come from it.

The next site was behind the complex and required a bit of a trek though the brush to reach. Unfortunately, this well too, was very shallow. On the way down to the water, however, we saw the sides of the well shaft, and saw that it branched off in 2 opposing directions. By the time we hit the water though, the open area was a simple circular shape, and there were no tunnels or passageways to be explored. Maybe we can come back after some heavy rains and explore again!

Since we finished a bit early, the priest who was our contact there, Father Tony, invited us in for some coffee and tea, which was great. We sat around a big table and talked for a while, until Brig mentioned how cool it would be to see the catacombs. Father Tony offered to take us in and see - a private (free!) tour!

We walked down the large stone staircase outside the complex with Father Tony. When we got inside, he gave us a bit of background of what we were looking at. We were inside of a crypt which is essentially an underground church. This room was decorated with "frescos" - paintings done directly on the wall that usually showed saints or other religious figures. Father Tony explained that most of the frescos had been ruined during a period where Muslims were invading. To show their discontent with the frescos and with the Catholic religion, they scraped the faces off of the paintings of the saints.

We moved deeper into the crypt and began to see the catacombs. Some of these burial sites actually still had the bones in them! This was a bit strange, but really helped give the catacombs a more realistic feel than the empty ones of St. Paul. Father Tony also told us about stone tables that might have been used for a kind of offering to or for the dead. One of the tables was in the shape of the Greek letter "alpha," the one on the other side of the room in the shape of "omega." At the very end of the catacombs was another crypt decorated with more frescos. There was an altar here decorated with many Christian symbols including shells, pelicans and Greek letters (chi and rho). There was also a special tomb big enough for a single person, and most likely was meant for the priest.

This was an awesome experience and we were very grateful for Father Tony's hospitality! St. Agatha's was definitely another interesting place to visit, filled with centuries of history.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Underwater Roboticists Unplugged

Snorkeling Day 1

On Chris's last day we decided to be a bit more adventurous than usual. Chris really wanted to go swimming in the Mediterranean and what a better way to enjoy the beautiful weather than laying out on the beach and snorkeling for a few hours. The scenery was picturesque with clear shallow water surrounded by a bright blue sky. The best part of snorkeling was not the wildlife in the water (as there was about 2 fish that I saw) but spending a good length of time enjoying our surroundings both above and below the water. A good chunk of the time we spent in the water was laying on our backs while floating in the water, enjoying each others company, and taking everything in. It was truly a unique experience.

Exploring the Mediterranean

Postcard worthy view of the beautiful underwater landscape

Putting on the flippers!

Laying back and enjoying the view

Up-close and personal looking up at the bright blue sky

Acrobatics underwater

Enjoying the warm, clear waters of the Mediterranean.

The saying,"A picture is worth a thousand words" couldn't be more true in this picture.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Inspiring the Next Generation - Teaching Robotics

Part of the ICEX goals this year have been reaching out to elementary school aged children and introducing them to robotics and inspiring them to go into science and technology fields. During the quarter back at Cal Poly, we visited two different 2nd grade classrooms at Pacheco elementary school every Wednesday. We switched off between the classrooms and had hands-on lessons that talked about design, testing and programming. It was very successful. The kids seemed to really enjoy it and retain a lot of what we taught. We even got a book of thank you notes written by all the students afterward – a nice touch.

Originally, that was going to be the extent of our outreach. At the suggestion of Timmy though, we packed a suitcase full of little robots so we could continue the lessons at several Maltese grade schools. We started off with a brief lecture about different types of robots and introduced the robots we brought and the paper disks used to program them.

The disks we used were small circular pieces of paper (that we had to individually cut out beforehand). The robots have two sensors that read the disk as it rotates and determines if the 2 rows of squares are black or white. Depending on the combination of black and white, the robot will go forward, stop, or turn left or right.

We then broke the students into groups of 3-4 and let them each “program” the robot to navigate a simple maze we created on the floor with tape by coloring disks with black pencils and pens. Overall, the students were very excited about it and there were several students who even inquired about where they could get their own robot so they could do more on their own.

It was encouraging to be so enthusiastically received by both the students and faculty of the schools and in addition to being a good educational experience for the students there, it was a great experience for the ICEX team as well to be able to talk with so many students (who represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds).

Locations of Site Visitors