Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Young Innovators to Compete in Underwater Robotics

By Phil Kimball

Next month, more than 1,500 students, teachers, coaches/chaperones, family, friends, volunteers, judges, invited guests, speakers and committee members will gather in Atlanta for a fun weekend of learning, sharing, competing and excitement. The Seventh National SeaPerch Challenge, hosted this year by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), will take place May 20, 2017. On the line will be the title of National SeaPerch Champion with additional trophies being awarded in all three competition events, as well as special awards in a variety of categories. 
More than 200 middle and high school student teams will participate in the underwater robotics competition held at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) McCauley Aquatics Center in the Campus Recreation Center. The CRC is a 300,659 square foot, state of the art home to the McCauley Aquatics Center – a unique expansion of the existing swimming and diving venue built for the 1996 Olympic Games.
The record number of student participants will be grouped into teams comprised of regional winners from middle and high schools as well as from 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, home schoolers and other groups who have earned the right to compete against their peers on the national stage. Team participation has dramatically increased since the launch of the competition. The first National SeaPerch Challenge was held in 2011 in Philadelphia with 187 students grouped into just 38 teams.
This year the weekend’s events will be divided between Georgia State University and Georgia Tech. The two schools are located only a few miles apart and will be conveniently connected by shuttle bus for the student teams. Registered participants and spectators will be housed at Georgia State University’s dormitories, and will be treated to the “college experience” while also enjoying the entire weekend’s activities, such as the Friday Night Social, Saturday’s in-pool competition, and – new this year – the Engineering Notebook competition, followed by the Awards Ceremony. 
SeaPerch is the innovative K-12 underwater robotics program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and managed by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation (AUVSIF). It offers teachers and group leaders the opportunity to inspire their students to build their own remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) following an academic curriculum consistent with the Next Generation Science Standards supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects with a marine engineering-based theme. The program promotes hands-on learning of engineering and scientific concepts, problem solving, teamwork and critical thinking while introducing students to potential and rewarding career opportunities in naval architecture, marine, ocean and naval engineering. 
“With guidance afforded by AUVSIF and ONR’s continuing commitment to SeaPerch, the program has grown exponentially, reaching over 350,000 students since its inception in 2007,” said Susan Nelson, Executive Director of SeaPerch. “Over the years, nearly 22,000 teachers and mentors have committed to supporting student learning through this stimulating and fun hands-on activity which promotes student discovery and excitement about STEM subjects leading to a potential future career path.” 
SeaPerch reaches a diverse population, and the National Challenge frequently include students from inner cities, remote rural areas of the country, Native American reservations in Minnesota, and the Pacific islands. All of these participants have been introduced to STEM though SeaPerch. The 2017 competition will welcome teams from beyond the continental U.S. with groups from Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands and New Zealand.
Georgia Tech, via a contract with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (Georgia Tech’s non-profit applied research arm), is this year’s event partner and co-host. Georgia Tech is a leading research university that provides a focused, technologically based education to more than 21,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Ranked as the seventh best public university, Georgia Tech offers degrees through the colleges of Design, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, the Scheller College of Business, and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. The competition will be coordinated by GTRI’s STEM initiative – STEM@GTRI, which aims to inspire, engage and impact Georgia educators and students by providing access to experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. 
About the Schedule
May 19: Arriving teams and chaperones will first check into their assigned dorm rooms on the Georgia State campus and get settled. Then they will head over to registration for check-in and submit their SeaPerch vehicles for a compliance check to verify their safe operation and conformity to the rules. For those vehicles requiring adjustments and/or repairs, a triage station with spare parts and tools will be available for the duration of the competition. Friday evening dinner will be served at the University’s dining hall followed by the Night Social at University Commons where students from all over the country and beyond can meet, mingle and compare their design enhancements and innovations as well as their challenges along the way. All participants will receive National SeaPerch Challenge T-shirts and giveaway bags filled with items contributed both by the SeaPerch program and its corporate sponsors.
May 20: Competition day will take place at the Georgia Tech Campus Recreational Center, where Mistress of Ceremonies Susan Nelson will preside over the opening ceremony, which features a number of notable speakers and last minute technical instructions for the teams. The ceremony will be accompanied by photographers, videographers and local media, as well as web streaming of the day’s activities for the benefit of classmates, friends and parents back home.
May 21: A free day for the teams to explore, on their own, the rich cultural history and outdoor activities in the greater Atlanta environs including local historic sites, parks and other attractions, as well as the Georgia Aquarium.
The Competition
The Underwater Events
An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) must be able to maneuver successfully under its own power to perform its designated mission. Consideration of optimal maneuverability as well as control and speed must be given when constructing the SeaPerch, including thruster placement and orientation, tether attachment, buoyancy, ballast, and the control box. The in-pool technical competition consists of two events: the Obstacle Course and The Challenge.
The Obstacle Course
The submerged obstacle course involves a series of five large 18” diameter rings, oriented at various heights and in multiple planes, through which the vehicles must travel. Teams must navigate their ROV through the obstacle course, surface, re-submerge and return through the course again to the end. Scores are based on the fastest time for successfully navigating the obstacle course.
The Challenge
Every year the second in-pool event changes, requiring the students to design their vehicles specifically to meet the designated mission. For 2017, The Challenge consists of an ‘Origin’ station where three rings and three cubes will be located within a fixture. Each of these objects must be retrieved one at a time by the ROV and transported to the ‘Platform’ station for the determination of points. The clock stops when the team identifies they are done by surfacing and touching the pool wall with their vehicle, whereupon the maximum number of points awarded in the shortest time will determine the winner.
The Engineering Notebook
Introduced for the first time this year, the third competition event will provide an opportunity for competitors to share their learning experience, innovations and science understanding through the development of an Engineering Notebook, which more closely aligns with the engineering aspects of the National SeaPerch Challenge. Use of an Engineering Notebook provides an excellent learning experience and allows students to demonstrate their understanding of engineering principles and design concepts. It is used to measure the team’s ability to document the engineering development process used to design and modify their SeaPerch vehicles to meet the pool challenges as opposed to simply recording the steps involved in the construction of a standard ROV.
Teams use the physical notebook throughout the SeaPerch project to document the specific steps they take in the engineering design and modification process, similar to what they would be asked to do as a working engineer. Some of the items documented could include consisting of hand sketches, photos, handwritten notes, graphs, charts and computer-aided design (CAD) drawings.
Prior to the National Challenge, teams must submit their Engineering Notebooks electronically via a PDF file, in accordance with required content, format and limitations. The Notebook will be examined by a group of qualified professionals. The identified top teams will then be invited to present their ideas and notebooks in person to a juried panel of judges on competition day.
Approximately 150 judges and volunteers are anticipated to be in attendance on Saturday in order to adequately oversee and judge the day’s competition events and to ensure a rewarding and memorable day for all participants, attendees and guests.
On Saturday evening the Awards Ceremony will take place at the Recreation Center. Trophies will be presented for first, second, and third place in each event for each of middle school, high school, and open classes. The special awards and the naming of the 2017 National SeaPerch Champions will all be presented by Susan Nelson and special invited guests followed by photographs with each winning team. After the last trophy has been awarded and the last photo taken, all registrants will return to Georgia State University for a festive dinner in the University’s dining hall. The Georgia Aquarium will stay open late for students, who will have the opportunity to explore the facility at a significantly discounted rate. 
Speakers representing corporate sponsors, local and state congressional representatives, ONR, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and other military branch personnel have been invited to take part in the day’s activities. They have been encouraged to arrive early and observe the competitions, judge various events and speak firsthand with the students before addressing them that evening about the importance of STEM to their future careers. All student members of the teams will receive participation medals and will be photographed with their team for the benefit of their families and schools back home. Additionally, Certificates of Participation are available both for student participants, teachers and advisors to download following the National Challenge.
Sponsorship opportunities are still available for individual, local and corporate funding, and can be viewed on the SeaPerch website. You may contact Susan Nelson at about how to become a sponsor for this event.
For news and updates concerning the National Challenge, be sure to visit the SeaPerch website. Please contact Cheri Koch at for logistical questions.
(As published in the April 2017 edition of Marine Technology Reporter)
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