New Ipswich/Temple

Robotics Club takes first place

Local students learn engineering skills by building undersea apparatuses

  • High School diving team
  • Cedric Wildes, Roland Wilde's from Temple and Nate Blais with unknown judge at poster competition.
  • High School Diving team

Robots are moving through the water, navigating obstacles, carefully picking up and transporting debris littering the floor. This operation could be going on down on the sea floor, with the robots operated by fully trained engineers. Instead, it was happening at the Swasey Pool in the University of New Hampshire Field House, and the ones behind the controls were students, aged 11 to 18, taking part in the Seacoast SeaPerch Challenge on June 7. Among them were the Monadnock 4-H Robotics Club.

Team Godzilla of the Monadnock 4-H Robotics Club won first place in the high school division, and their middle school team, the Inflaterizers, were named the 2014 Seacoast SeaPerch Overall Champion, which means their combined score on all challenges was the highest in the competition.

Seacoast SeaPerch is co-sponsored by the UNH Cooperative Extension 4-H Program, and the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. During the program children work in teams with adult mentors to build an remote-operated vehicle which will compete in underwater challenges.

“Kids learn lots engineering skills when they build and operate a SeaPerch,” said Claes Thelemarck of UNH Cooperative Extension in a recent press release. “They learn basic electronics, concepts such as buoyancy, propulsion and submarine design, and most importantly problem solving and teamwork skills. One of the program goals is to introduce youth to possible engineering or other science based careers.”

This challenge wasn’t one the Monadnock 4-H Robotics Club had faced before, said Mechanical Mentor and coach for the high school team Greg Blais of New Ipswich in an interview Wednesday. The teams, which are based in New Ipswich at Boynton Middle School (even though it is not school club), include high school and middle school students from New Ipswich and Temple. The club has participated in FIRST robotics competitions before, but this was something completely different, said Blais.

Each team can purchase a kit to use as a starting point, but one of the challenges of the robotics competition is to innovate, developing a superior design that will give the best performance.

During the competition at UNH the High School Division had to face challenges including an underwater obstacle course, where club members had to navigate their robot through hoops raise their robot up out of the water and then reverse through the hoops again, a salvage course where pilots had to open a door and retrieve four submerged boxes, and a poster session where they had to visually explain their building process.

There was also a non-competitive challenge where teams needed to work together to modify their ROVs to collect debris that had been scattered by a hurricane. “These challenges simulate tasks that [remote-operated vehicle] drivers might need to do in the real world. Our salvage operation was inspired by Superstorm Sandy which scattered debris up and down the eastern seacoast,” said Tara Hicks-Johnson of the UNH Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, one of the program sponsors.

The middle school group, the Inflaterizers, took on an interesting approach to create a robot capable of breaking the surface of the water, said Steve Lechner, the team mentor and leader of the middle school group. Instead of relying on the built-in motor for upward propulsion, the team attached a balloon with an air pump that they could use for additional buoyancy.

“One of the judges said she’d been watching the challenge for three years, and that was the best design she’d seen,” said Lechner. “They really do encourage creative thinking, design technology and finding new ways to use materials. It’s more than just following the steps in the kit. They really encourage creating. There’s a lot of venues for kids who love sports art, or music, but not a lot for the kids that have an interest in engineering, which is one of the good things about this team.”

The high school team made their own improvements, changing the position of the motor and adding a hook to the front to assist in moving materials. Both teams got the opportunity to test their robots and get some experience driving underwater before the competition at the therapy pool at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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