By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public AffairsAugust 30, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Techbrick Robotics hosted a SeaPerch competition at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aug. 26.
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the vehicles from kits comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.
The SeaPerch program provides students the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics, or STEM, while building an underwater ROV as part of a science and engineering technology curriculum.
The student teams created robots to compete in a series of underwater challenges. ARL's Dr. Christopher Hoppel said the competition held at APG capped a three-month journey where students learned engineering skills while building, testing and refining their robots.
"Building the robots was more difficult than expected," said Hoppel. "The control box required careful soldering to secure the electric components and several of the teams, had to apply, then remove, the solder two or three times until the controllers functioned properly."
He said building the electric motors required the students to seal the motors from the water, while allowing connection to the propellers while they were in the water. The students used plastic film canisters, which were sealed with toilet bowl wax to keep the motors dry.
"Once the students built the robots, they needed to be water-tested and adjusted for buoyancy in the pool. This was difficult, as the robots had to be buoyant enough to lift their own weight plus a plastic cube, yet they also had to be able to descend to the bottom of the pool," said Hoppel.
The coach of the Havre de Grace team, Shawna Ashman from Altus Engineering, said the lessons in buoyancy were the second most important lessons for her team, with the most important lesson being the recognition that major last minute changes should be avoided.
The students recorded their challenges and accomplishments in an engineering notebook, with drawings, pictures and descriptions of what was done to build the robot.
"In Saturday's competition, the teams competed in a four-part challenge: the students raced their robots through an obstacle course of hoops in the water, then the student-controlled robots competed to solve a puzzle where rope rings and PVC blocks were placed on an underwear goal and the teams presented what they had learned to a panel of judges both through their written engineering notebook as well as in an oral presentation," explained Hoppel.
Hoppel indicated that although it was a "beautiful clear day," the weather impacted the competition.
"When the wind was blowing, it was often difficult to see the robots through the ripples in the pool -- this made it difficult to navigate the 20-foot long obstacle course," said Hoppel.
After a tough run on the obstacle course, Aidan Bennett, the captain of the Coconut Sharks Team summed up his feeling towards the weather. "The boats are cool, but the wind is annoying."
Throughout the competitions, the students were determined, but courteous to their opponents, said one of the judges, Ty Schwenk, from Raytheon Corporation. He said he was impressed by the "respectful and professional manner" of the students.
Four teams comprised of nine students total competed at the event held at APG's Olympic pool.
"By the end of the day, the Havre de Grace Warriors high school team completed the obstacle course in the fastest time, but the Bel Air Coconut Sharks earned first place over-all by scoring the highest point total on the puzzle challenge and in their engineering notebook and presentation," said Hoppel.
Hoppel said the St. Joan of Arc Golden Crabs from Aberdeen, Maryland finished second overall by being the runner-up in the obstacle course, the puzzle and the engineering notebook. He also said the Kennard Dale High School Rams from Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania impressed the judges with a great presentation and a notebook that clearly showed their design process.
The Coconut Sharks and the St. Joan of Arc teams earned invitations to compete at the National Championship level and will advance to the championship event that is scheduled to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, April 2018.
Volunteers at the event included Hoppel and ARL's Dr. Richard Becker; Danielle Hoppel from Kenmoor Middle School; Ty Schwenk from Raytheon and Techbrick Robotics; and Caitlin Byrne, Gabe Raibner, Travis Wagner and Dawn Raibner, all with Techbrick Robotics.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.