Science and Technology News

Monday, April 30, 2012

Underwater Robot Face Off

With a national title on the line, student teams from across the country are competing with their underwater robots in the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded championship in Manassas Park, Va.

The 2012 National SeaPerch Challenge brings top teams from middle and high school together to compete with the underwater robots they’ve built as part of a curriculum designed to boost their skills and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The SeaPerch program is an initiative under the Department of the Navy’s STEM Coordination Office, which facilitates outreach efforts across the service. The chief of naval research, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, presented awards to winning teams.

“SeaPerch provides an affordable entry point for underwater robotics, and, from there, directional arrows to other science and engineering competitions and internships—it’s an easy-to-follow ‘yellow brick road’ approach,” said Kelly Cooper, program officer, ONR Sea Platforms and Weapons division. “The goal is to expand student awareness and encourage them to pursue STEM education and careers.”

The competition challenges are designed to reflect Navy-relevant operations. This year, the 70 teams are competing in two events: an obstacle course and a salvage operation. Both take place in a community center indoor pool.

For the obstacle course, teams must navigate through 24-inch rings—which may be oriented in any direction—surface, re-submerge and return through the course. The salvage operation involves five 5-gallon buckets inverted on the pool’s bottom, which each team must float to the surface and then bring poolside.

SeaPerch gives teachers and students the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) from a kit made up of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. The objective is that students will build STEM, problem-solving and teamwork skills.

Since 2007, more than 42,000 students have participated in SeaPerch. The program is funded by ONR and managed by the AUVSI Foundation—the Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems International.

Cooper believes that SeaPerch is an educational equalizer. “SeaPerch really resonates with students who do better with hands-on learning,” she said. “It also brings inner-city and magnet schools together to compete, while showing the inner-city students that their ROVs work just as well and that STEM careers are accessible and a real option for them.”

Last year marked the first National SeaPerch Challenge, which was held in Philadelphia with 38 teams. The 2013 event will be May 18 in Indianapolis, with 100 teams expected to compete.

Information for this article provided by the Office of Naval Research

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