Adding to the excitement of this year’s event, middle and high school students got an underwater view of their SeaPerch robots as they raced through obstacle courses during the fourth annual SeaPerch National Challenge held May 17 in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation, this year’s challenge took place in the Johnson Natatorium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.
Approximately 100 student teams from around the country each built remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)—called SeaPerch—as part of a curriculum designed to develop skills and encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“These students spent lots of time in school and after school working together to solve problems and practice the basics of engineering and robotics as they built their underwater vehicles,” said Kelly Cooper, a program officer in ONR’s Sea Platforms and Weapons Division. “The immediate payoff for them is getting their vehicles in the water for the competition, but the big payoff for us is getting more and more kids on STEM career paths.”
In each lane of the competition pool, rugged, low-cost underwater cameras showed the teams how their robots were performing. From pool deck monitors, teams could get a clear, underwater view of their SeaPerch as they maneuvered it to perform the competition’s tasks. The Naval Engineering Education Consortium supplied the monitors and lane cameras, which also were used to give the audience a better look at the action through a live webcast during the event.
The competition challenges were designed to be fun for the teams and to mimic the mechanics of Navy underwater operations like navigation, search and retrieval of objects. This year, the teams competed in two events: an underwater obstacle course of large rings through which the vehicles maneuvered and, “The Heist,” an underwater mesh wall spanning the swim lane from bottom to surface. Below the surface was a “vault door” that each SeaPerch had to unlock and push open. On the other side of the mesh wall were weighted boxes that each SeaPerch tried to retrieve.
“Each year, we expand our reach with this event, bringing more students from inner-city and magnet schools together for a fun, hands-on learning experience,” Cooper said.
“It’s the ‘hands-on’ part that’s important,” she continued. “Here, every team learns that when you go from dry-land theory to underwater competition, things go wrong. That’s the most valuable kind of learning, because it is based on their experience.”
The SeaPerch program provides teachers and students with resources to build underwater ROVs from low-cost kits or from easily available parts. Building, testing and modifying a SeaPerch vehicle teaches students the basics of naval engineering and marine science.
Since 2007, more than 100,000 students have participated in SeaPerch, which is funded by ONR and managed by the AUVSI Foundation.
Press Release, May 20, 2014; Image: ONR