News: SeaPerch lures students to STEM and an underwater world of competition
Story by Tina Stillions
SAN DIEGO - Volunteers and spectators cheered and supported the more than 40 grade school and high school students participating in the San Diego regional SeaPerch qualifying tournament April 27.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the SeaPerch Challenge hosted 13 teams as they displayed their engineering know-how during the regional qualifying competition. Two winning teams were selected to compete in the national competition, which will be held in Indianapolis, Ind., May 18.
Chris Decker, the National SeaPerch Southwest Region Coordinator, has been helping coordinate competitions in San Diego for two years. She provides training and guidance to help facilitate development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs in grade schools and high schools throughout the region.
“This competition enables students to design and develop a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and then put it to the test,” said Decker. “The students are able to apply the skills they’ve honed working together on teams in the design and development of their vehicles and apply them in an actual underwater setting. The hope is that this competition will inspire them and get them excited about pursuing STEM careers.”
SeaPerch is an underwater robotics program that provides teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater vehicle. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts (about $143 per unit). Teams follow instructions comprised of basic engineering and science concepts that are easy and understandable but provide fundamental scientific principles in a real-world situation.
The regional qualifying tournament is a one-day design competition between teams of two to four students, ranging in age from 9 to 16. The teams work together to build, launch and then compete their ROV in the SeaPerch Challenge. Teams are judged in three areas: mission recovery, obstacle course and presentation.
During the presentation segment of the qualifying heat, team members are required to describe how they built their kits, including some of the challenges they may have experienced in the modification of their original operational concept.
“It’s really spectacular and refreshing to see the teamwork and leadership roles these kids take on,” said SPAWAR Chief Engineer Rear Adm. James Rodman, who was on hand to kick off the event and assisted in the judging. “The SeaPerch competition gets kids engaged in a technical problem solving scenario or environment. It takes them from concept to design to real operations. They get to see the fruits of their labor, so it’s a tremendous learning experience.”
Throughout the competition phase, the teams are required to remotely move the vehicle through an underwater obstacle course, without entangling the ropes and wires and ensuring the vehicle breaks the surface. Once the vehicle has made it through the course and ascended, the teams are required to loop it through again and bring it back up to the top as quickly as possible. While participating in the deep water recovery phase, the vehicle is maneuvered to remove a ring from a holder and then required to place it into a basket without dropping it. Teams are scored by the speed at which their craft completes the course and the ease with which they are able to remove the rings. The competition requires constant communication between team members as one operates and another visually guides the vehicle through each part of the course. It is an effort requiring the kind of hand-eye coordination and skill to which the participants are extremely adept.
After hours of technical demonstrations and design discussions, winners were selected for each of the three categories. The overall champion of the day’s event was St. Martin of Tours Academy Middle School. Boy Scout Troop 170 took the best deep water mission competition and best presentation. The youngest competitors were the grade school age Sea Cadets team, which took a best obstacle course time of 1 minute, 12 seconds. The St. Martin of Tours Academy Middle School and Naval Sea Cadet High School teams will be representing California at the Nationals.
“It’s been a fun experience. I really like the competition,” said Greg Plale, a13-year-old member of one of the several competing Naval Sea Cadet teams. “We were able to build on our teamwork and work together to assemble our kit in a day.”
As the Navy's Information Dominance Systems Command, SPAWAR participates regularly in events and programs that inspire and prepare young men and women for STEM careers with the federal government.