Robotic Invasion


Underwater robots used clawed arms, infrared eyes, and temperature probes to overrun the UC San Diego campus in June.

The robots, which were designed, built, and operated by students, competed against each other in underwater missions in the seventh annual international Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) competition hosted by the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography co-hosted the competition, which this year highlighted research of hydrothermal vent communities located on the seafloor at mid-ocean ridges. ROVs are underwater robots used in ocean exploration by scientists and the marine industry in remote locations.

“This year’s competition put the students’ knowledge to the test in a deep-sea environment,” said Eric Simms, education specialist for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Ridge 2000 program at Scripps, which supports interdisciplinary research of hydrothermal vents and mid-ocean ridges.  “It provided them with real- world applications for scientific exploration while promoting technical skills and science literacy.” 

The Ridge 2000 program, which is currently based at Scripps, designed this year’s challenge, “Diving to the Deep: Uncovering the Mysteries of Mid-Ocean Ridges.”

The 51 student teams that reached the finals were from middle and high schools, community colleges, and universities on six continents. At the San Diego international competition final, the students were judged on engineering design and execution during two final timed missions to retrieve items from a simulated hydrothermal vent, otherwise known as a black smoker.

Two classes of ROV - Ranger and Explorer - competed against each other this year. 

The classes were based upon the experience level of the team members and sophistication of the ROVs.

This year’s first place winner in the Ranger class was the New York City Home Educators Alliance. Edgewater High School, Orlando, Fla., took second place and Dalbrae Academy High School from Malbou, Nova Scotia, Canada, took third. The Explorer class winners included Eastern Edge Robotics of Newfoundland, Canada, in first place; Long Beach City College in Long Beach, Calif., and California Academy of Math & Science in Carson, Calif., took second and third place.

Local winners included UCSD team captain Evan Woolley, who won the MVP Engineering Evaluation award for giving a great engineering evaluation in the Explorer class. The UCSD team also took home the Aloha Team Spirit award for the Explorer class.
“The best moments of the competition were the multiple times that I saw teams helping one another,” said Simms. “It was really great to witness such professionalism, sportsmanship, and camaraderie among so many of the teams in the face of competition.” 

-- Annie Reisewitz

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