Underwater Robotics

Students learn valuable engineering and life skills during competition

July 25, 2014

By Tracie Dean, ARL Public Affairs

Summertime for kids is supposed to be about relaxing, vacations and having fun with family and friends away from school, but for 22 teams of students from across Maryland, summer fun took on a new meaning during the fifth-annual SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Competition held June 21 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

SeaPerch is a challenging and innovative underwater robotics program for students that combines design principles for underwater marine vessels with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts.

Students are taught fundamental skills in underwater-vessel design and are provided with the resources required to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV. Aside from learning valuable engineering and design concepts, students gained important practical experience in problem solving, teamwork and technical applications, while gaining exposure to a vast array of career areas related to naval architecture and marine/ocean engineering.

In collaboration with TechBrick, an independent robotics and STEM education club, ARL sponsored the event and also provided participating students with cost-efficient kits containing the required parts necessary for building their ROVs.

Teams of students from Harford, Cecil, and Baltimore counties built robots and competed in three challenges. The first challenge was "The Heist," where the ROVs had to open a vault door underwater and remove a series of weighted boxes from the bottom of a 12-foot pool back through the vault door. The second challenge was an underwater obstacle course. The robots raced through a series of hoops at the base of the pool. Finally, each team gave a short poster presentation on what they learned during the season.

During the competition, each team displayed engineering skills and unique team spirit when redesigning and repairing their robots between the matches.

Dr. Christopher Hoppel, chief of ARL's Soldier Protection Sciences Branch in ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, announced the award winners for each category and commented on the success of the day's event. "I was impressed at how seriously the students took the competition," Hoppel said. "Several of the teams held practice events at other pools leading up to the challenge, and there was great camaraderie between the teams."

A panel of volunteer judges presented awards to the following teams:

  • High-school first place winner: Team Pajama Suits who represented TechBrick
  • High-school second place winners: Team Sea Bears from Catholic High School
  • Middle-school first place winner: Team Underwater Rovers from the Loyola swim team
  • Middle-school second place winners: Team NERDS who represented TechBrick, and Team Patriot's Pride from the Bel Air Middle School
  • Elementary-school first place winner: Team Electrobots who represented TechBrick
  • Elementary-school second place winners: Team Tigersharks from the Boy Scouts and team Aestus from the Naval Academy Primary School

Susan Ciavolino, STEM Education Director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, discussed the benefits of the competition.

"My [Boys and Girls Club] kids love the SeaPerch competition. We have participated every year and enjoy the opportunity to design and build an underwater robot," Ciavolino said. "The highlight for everyone seems to be the opportunity to drill and solder—what's not to love about using power tools? I like the confidence I can see growing in our members as they learn these new skills."

The SeaPerch Underwater Robotics competition is an annual event. To learn more about the SeaPerch competition, visit www.seaperch.org.


Last Update / Reviewed: July 25, 2014