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AMS teams test the waters in robot challenge

February 24, 2012

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Some area middle schools students will go on an underwater recovery mission on Saturday, but it’s no pirate’s treasure they’re after.
This weekend, Mississippi State University’s Sanderson Center will host the SeaPerch robotics competition, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. The competition challenges middle school students to build a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) using inexpensive materials that can complete a task underwater.
The Armstrong Middle School robotics class’ “Aquatic Effect” is just one of the teams from around the southeast that will participate in the competition.
“Each year that you have a challenge that you have to build your robot to accomplish. Their goal is to redesign and re-engineer the robot to meet that year’s challenge,” teacher Jackie Wilt said. “This year’s mission is the use of lift bags in underwater salvage recovery units.”
An underwater lift bag is a device used to carry objects to the surface using an air-tight bag with straps that lifts an object with the buoyancy of the bag.
During Saturday’s challenge, the teams will have to use their robots to retrieve several buckets which are weighted down to the bottom of the pool.
“They are required to design their robot to be able to submerge and then add buoyancy to the bucket to rise it up to the surface and bring it up to the side of the pool,” Wilt said.
Last semester, the students participated in the FIRST Lego League robotics competition, but this weekend’s competition offers a whole new set of challenges. For the previous competition, the students had to program a robot to complete a set of tasks, but this time they will have to use a remote control and, of course, it all takes place underwater.
“One of the challenges is that we have to work as a team. It’s really hard to see the robot in the water because of all the waves coming from other people, so we have to have the spotter to look for the driver,” student Troy Johnson said.
This is the first time the AMS teams will compete in the SeaPerch challenge, and they’ve only had about a month to prepare. Finding time and a place to test out their robots has been a problem as well. They’ve practiced everywhere from the AMS librarian’s home pool to a trash can filled with water.
The competition also has a research and presentation component.
“We needed to find out how much buoyancy was needed, where the buoyancy was needed, so we researched Archimedes’ principal, the principal buoyancy and pretty much how things float,” student Patrick Mame said.
In addition to gaining engineering experience, the competition has taught the students a number of life lessons, from teamwork to problem solving.
“Ms. Wilt always tells us not to feel bad or frustrated because everybody, even adults who are engineers, have the same trouble that we have solving a problem,” student Montario Montgomery said. “I think it’s a good lesson for us as students.”
The SeaPearch competition will be held at the pool in the Sanderson Center beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.

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