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Underwater Cameras Give STEM Teams New Look at SeaPerch Challenge

June 9, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
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  • Underwater cameras from Office of Naval Research provide views of SeaPerch Challenge, which pits unmanned remote-operated vehicles against each other as middle and high school students navigate various challenges.

In a new twist, middle and high school participants of the fourth annual SeaPerch National Challenge were able to monitor their underwater robots as they navigated obstacle courses thanks to technology sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation, according to press releases.

Roughly 100 student teams from around the United States built remotely operated vehicles—called SeaPerch—as part of a curriculum designed to develop skills and encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The teams tested them at this year’s challenge held recently at the Johnson Natatorium on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

“These students spent lots of time in school and after school working together to solve problems and practice the basics of engineering and robotics as they built their underwater vehicles,” Kelly Cooper, a program officer in the ONR’s Sea Platforms and Weapons Division, says. “The immediate payoff for them is getting their vehicles in the water for the competition, but the big payoff for us is getting more and more kids on STEM career paths.”

The Naval Engineering Education Consortium provided the monitors and lane cameras. The challenge mimics the mechanics of U.S. Navy underwater operations such as navigation and search and retrieval missions. The teams competed in two events: an obstacle course in which they had to navigate the robots through large rings in the water, and “the heist,” in which the SeaPerch vehicles had to navigate under a mesh wall to unlock and push open a vault door and then retrieve weighted boxes.

“Each year, we expand our reach with this event, bringing more students from inner city and magnet schools together for a fun, hands-on learning experience,” Cooper says. “It’s the ‘hands-on’ part that’s important. Here, every team learns that when you go from dry-land theory to underwater competition, things go wrong. That’s the most valuable kind of learning, because it is based on their experience.”

The SeaPerch program provides teachers and students with resources to build underwater remote-operated vehicles from low-cost kits or from readily available parts, according to a news release. Since 2007, more than 100,000 students have participated in SeaPerch, funded by the ONR and managed by the AUVSI Foundation.

Additionally, the University of Southern Mississippi sponsors a SeaPerch/Southern Miss scholarship essay competition, awarding the two top applicants each with a $3,500 scholarship. Applicants must be rising high school seniors (class of spring 2015) and must enroll full time at the University of Southern Mississippi for the fall 2015 semester. Completed applications and letters of recommendation must be submitted electronically by Nov. 3.

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