Every bot into the pool

Students compete in international underwater robotics competition

Most robots are made for land, not water. But not the ones built by students for the 2018 International SeaPerch Challenge – an underwater robotics competition held by Robonation, an online robotics community created by the nonprofit Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation.

“To succeed in SeaPerch, you must be able to solve puzzles,” said Aadith Arasu, a junior at Andover High School in Massachusetts. “And when solving problems, two minds are always better than one. We’ve all learned the importance of teamwork and cooperation throughout this process.”

After intense regional qualifying rounds, 172 of the world’s best high school and middle school teams advanced to the championship at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to pit their robots against a rigorous aquatics obstacle course. The objective was simple: Traverse the course as quickly as possible, then pick up and transfer cargo between designated locations. 

Teams were issued supply kits that included PVC pipes and three small motors they had to use to design and build their robots. How they assembled those materials was up to their imagination.

The Andover Sharks team shrank their bot to try to gain an advantage.

“(The motors) are a fixed power,” said Sara Earl, an Andover junior. “So the smaller you can make your robot, the faster it can accelerate, and the faster it can go.”

The goal of the SeaPerch Challenge is to bring classroom learning to life. Raytheon sponsored this year’s event, part of the company's ongoing mission to promote STEM education and help develop the next generation of engineers and scientists. 

“This is such a great program, offering students a fun, interactive way to push their creative boundaries, build technical skills and put STEM into action,” said Paul Ferraro, Raytheon’s vice president of Seapower Capability Systems. “These teachers and coaches are helping students recognize their talents and passion for creating something, improving something, or solving a problem. That’s what engineering is – and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

Dan Donavan a physics teacher at Andover High School, coached the school's team. When he was in the U.S. Navy, he served as a nuclear engineer aboard the USS Long Beach, where he witnessed the impact of undersea technology firsthand. 

“The kids (were) extremely excited to be competing,” said Donavan. “They worked hard to modify their ROV, and (were) equipped to adapt to any challenges or roadblocks that come their way.”

The Hetwiler Haliburts from Fleming Island, Florida, won the overall championship. Yet the Andover Sharks acquitted themselves admirably, placing third in the presentation category of the competition.

“SeaPerch allows us to solve problems in a strategic way, while exploring new concepts and ideas,” said Andover Sharks team member Curtis Lee. “The skills we learn while practicing and preparing can also be applied to a variety of industries, so we’re getting a jumpstart for college and beyond.”

Last Updated: 07/10/2018