March 27, 2013

Underwater Robot Rumble

The SeaPerch competition challenges young engineers.

Teacher and Students: Three, two, one… Go!

Maggie: Hanging out at a pool might seem like the right way to kick off spring break. But none of these 250 middle and high school students were actually swimming. They were competing in a underwater robotics competition.

Maggie: What was it like when your teacher came in the classroom and said, ‘Build me an underwater robot?’

Henry: Well, I thought it was kind of a cool idea. And I was really dedicated to putting in all of the work because, truly, this thing is really awesome.

Student: I was surprised because, like, you know, there’s not a lot of schools out here, like, that can make, like, stuff like this. So, it was fascinating to me.

Maggie: The building materials for these awesome robots came in a kit provided by SeaPerch, a science learning program that helps teach young people about underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs.

The name SeaPerch is in honor of two submarines in the United States Navy, which actually paid for the students’ $150 ROV kit.

Petty Officer McFadden: When I first got there and they were like, ‘Oh the military is here!’ And, you know, ‘We get to play with these things!’ And then, as it progressed, you know, they realized what SeaPerch is all about – the underwater robotics competition. And now a lot of them are venturing into becoming electrical engineers or scientists when they get older now.

Maggie: For years, underwater ROVs have been the only way for humans to explore some of the deepest parts of the Earth’s oceans where pressure levels are extreme. The robots were used to find the shipwrecked Titanic and cap the spewing BP oil well that dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010.

After working on their robots for months, the students were finally able to showcase their creations in front of their friends, families and a panel of volunteer judges at City College of New York. The competition consisted of two parts: a poster presentation where students explained how their robots were designed, and then the real test – an underwater obstacle course.

The underwater robots must compete in two challenges. One here at the shallow end of the pool where they navigate through a course of five rings. And another where they come to the deep end of the pool and put those rings into these crates. These competitors can also use what they learn about science, technology, engineering and math here and turn it into a career. Right now, jobs in STEM fields are in high demand in the U.S. and in the military.

Susan Miller: There are thousands of scientists that the Navy employs, studying and researching and improving. You can be a scientist at the Navy, you could design ships in the Navy, you could drive ROVs, you could invent the next torpedo that they need. It’s endless.

Maggie: Once the points were tallied, the top two teams were announced.

Middle school students from I.S. 303 in New York and Nutley High from New Jersey made the biggest splash in the competition.

Student: I mean, it was a great experience working with these guys. It was just awesome. And I think we had a good time doing it too.

Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.


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