Students Gain Expertise in Underwater Robotics

Students Gain Expertise in Underwater Robotics 

If scientists and weather experts are right, the impact of storms such as Hurricane Harvey will turn more devastating in the future. So, it's only fitting that three Houston-based schools participated in an annual underwater robotics competition, allowing students to develop robots and learn skills that could one day lead them to building similar systems that will help save lives and structures.

SeaPerch outfits teachers and students with resources to build an underwater remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or after-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. After they construct their SeaPerch robot, students are encouraged to test their vehicles, deploy them on missions and compete in a culminating event, the SeaPerch Challenge. The winners of local and regional events go on to participate in a national competition, held each spring. The program is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Alief Early College High School students tap maker resources at nearby Houston Community College. Source: Houston Community College.

Alief Early College High School students tap maker resources at nearby Houston Community College. Source: Houston Community College.

This year's winning student team, Giapac 101, came from Puerto Rico's Academia Ponce Interamericana, a tech-infused pre-K-12 school attached to the Ponce Campus of the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.

However, three Houston high school teams from Alief Early College High School, Alief Kerr High School and East Early College High School also competed, coming in 52nd, 54th and 57th in the challenge, respectively.

The Alief Early College students were forced to rely on the help of their neighbors when their 3D printer went on the fritz. Fortunately, they're within walking distance of Houston Community College, which runs a design lab, the DLab, with multiple 3D printers, as well as vinyl cutters, a mini-milling machine and several HP Sprouts, a combination design and scanning machine.

Besides printing the parts they needed for their robot, the "Knights Out" team was also able to use HCC resources to design and produce logos for team shirts.

"What's so nice is that they can use the lab and can learn on their own," said Noemi Dimaliwat, high school teacher, mentor, lead coach and STEM sponsor for the robotics team, said in an article. "The students were antsy and looked forward to participating in this competition."

When school is back in session next week, after the storms have subsided, the team will get back to work planning next year's ROV, which they hope will incorporate an underwater camera. Now the school just needs to find a replacement for their inoperable 3D printer.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.