Calling all underwater robots: The Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center will be hosting its 4th annual remotely operated vehicle competition April 22-24.
The ROV competition will bring together more than 20 student robotics teams from across the region. According to the event’s newsletter, teams have been “hard at work designing, building and testing” their unique ROVs for the competition and will bring them to the Sea Lab “and compete against other teams in a series of tasks or missions.”
One of the main reasons the competition continues to be put on year after year is how it encourages students to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Although the competition at the DISL is only four years old, this will be the 16th year the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center, or MATE, is running the underwater robot program.
The ROV competition at the DISL is part of a bigger national competition that has regionals all over the country. According to the newsletter, “The competition is one of 26 regional competitions that are a part of the MATE program and take place across the U.S. and around the world. This year’s MATE theme is ‘From the Gulf of Mexico to Jupiter’s Moon Europa: ROV Encounters in Inner and Outer Space.’” Each region may have different requirements for their ROVs based on the missions each team will face.
According to Rachel McDonald of the DISL, there are several missions and other requirements for the teams.
“All teams must pass the safety inspection for ROVs to be able to compete. Teams will compete in the pool demonstrations for four to five MATE missions: mission critical equipment recovery, forensic fingerprinting, deepwater coral study and rigs to reefs,” McDonald said. “Teams receive two attempts at each mission with the highest score being used as the product demonstration score.”
Each team is also required to create a marketing poster and give an engineering presentation to provide more detail about their robots and describe each team member’s role in constructing the ROV.
McDonald said she has seen the competition triple in recent years.
“This is my third year in coordinating the DISL/MATE competition and we have seen it grow every year. My first year we had six teams, the next year we had around 12 and this year we had over 20 teams register,” she said.
McDonald also believes the competition can benefit students not only in terms of engineering but in their daily lives as well.
“I think the skills, knowledge, teamwork — all aspects of the competition — are very beneficial to the students and the world we live in. The competition itself and their mentors and teachers are introducing and providing the students with the knowledge or skill set that they will need once they graduate from high school, and may impact their career choices out in the world. These students may very well be our future leaders, engineers, teachers and scientists that shape their generation and the world we live in,” McDonald explained.
Stephanie Serra is a teacher at Chickasaw High School who heads the robotics club on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after class. Serra believes the competition is a lot of fun and her students are gaining plenty of knowledge about ROVs.
“The students in my robotics classes are learning how to build and drive an ROV. The students in the after-school club are going to compete in two categories, Scout (without a camera) and Ranger (with a camera),” she said.
This ROV competition is not the first for her and her club, but Serra says she has a totally new team from last year. Don’t let that make you think they can’t compete, Serra said. “This year I have a whole new team … The team I have this year have already competed in one robotics event, VEX IQ, and went to state [competition]. They are now excited to learn something new. We are building robots from scratch and they are learning a whole new skill set … wiring, soldering, waterproofing … and we are working in water rather than on land.”
One of Serra’s goals as a teacher and moderator of the robotics club is to have students continue working on robotics.
“If I can keep my students from year to year, one of my goals is to see this be a more student-led design and continue upgrading our ROV,” she said. “I don’t have any continuing students yet, but I hope this happens. That is a teacher’s greatest dream, that we will open a student’s eyes to an opportunity they never imagined and excel [in it]. I believe robotics and computers are our future and hopefully I am giving my students a head start.”