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A Submersive Experience

Posted 04/07/2016 by Jordan Prochnow

Sophomore Beck Moore and Junior Teagan Suzuki are excited to take part in an innovative experience. photo by Javontae Jourdain

TJ’s robotics students prepare for the upcoming SeaPerch competition.

Students in TJ’s advanced robotics classes are currently preparing for their first shot at the sixth annual National SeaPerch Challenge, where teams will construct submarine robots to perform underwater tasks. SeaPerch teaches students about buoyancy, propulsion, waterproofing, and many other important engineering concepts in a hands-on, immersive experience.

The 2016 competition, Orbs, requires teams to construct a submarine robot that can retrieve plastic wiffle balls and golf balls from various underwater goals constructed of PVC pipe. The robot must then place the Wiffle balls into an upside down bucket, suspended underwater, and the golf balls into a scoring area on the floor of the pool. Students are given PVC pipes, pool noodles, mesh, film canisters, propellers, and other useful materials to construct their submarines. All motors have to be waterproofed, and the submarine must be able to fit through an 18 inch hoop. “What I think is unique for our school and the challenge itself is that we’ve moved the robots from a two-dimensional plane on the ground to three-dimensional,” said Matt Santambrogio, robotics instructor and coach. “Now they have to navigate up, down, left right, and take buoyancy into account, and the challenge has become much more complicated with the build and the construction of the robot.”

The submarine parts were donated to TJ from the Educational Branch of the Navy, located in Colorado, due to the fact that TJ’s Career Technology Education and Partnership Coordinator Danny Showers is on their board of directors. The Educational Branch assists schools by interacting with young adults at the high school level to provide them equipment, guest speakers, and other educational opportunities.

Using the kit of parts, students have until April 11th to design, build, and test their submarines as well as to design a poster to present. On April 12th, an in-class competition will determine the top two teams, who will then face off in a final school competition. The winner will compete on Sunday, April 16th, at the University of Colorado Boulder for a chance at the national competition. This will take place at Louisiana State University from May 20-22, where over 150 teams are expected to compete. Students are able to obtain “a college experience” through accommodations and meals on the LSU campus. On competition day, middle school, high school, and open class (not separated by grade) groups will compete in two in-water competitions and poster presentation. “It’s a really cool and different project than what we’ve done, and I’m excited to see what happens,” commented sophomore Beck Moore.

SeaPerch is funded by the Office of Naval Research, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME), and the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation (AUVSIF) to teach students and coaches how to build underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles. The name Perch comes from the USS Perch, a highly decorated World War II submarine. The sub was attacked and damaged in 1942, and the wreckage was discovered in 2006, becoming a site for archaeological diver exploration. SeaPerch has been used to develop the Ocean Engineering Program at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT), and has reached over 100,000 students with national competitions.

Having the chance to compete in an innovative competition like SeaPerch is an exciting experience for robotics students and teachers. With some PVC pipe, pool noodles, and dedication, things are certain to go swimmingly during competitions this spring.