The 2014 MATE ROV Big island Regional

This is the seventh year I have travelled to Hilo to help out. The seventh year of watching students attempt a difficult mission of the bottom of a swimming pool. The 2014 MATE ROV Regional competition was held Saturday, May 11th at the Hilo High School pool.

Ready for the Water?
The team from Kailua High School ready and test their ROV for a mission in the 2014 MATE Regional in Hilo
The mission this year is to explore a Great lakes shipwreck. As usual the “shipwreck” is made of PVC pipe, shade cloth and other hardware store parts. By measuring the wreck and discovering various features the identity of the ship could be determined. The robots are also built with hardware store parts, most with frames of PVC pipe. Interestingly there was a notable presence of parts manufactured with laser cutters and 3D printing this year. It is great to see these technologies making their way into educational programs, giving students unprecedented power to design and create.

Students from Highlands Intermediate School run a mission in the pool
Some teams did quite well. I was impressed by the professionalism and dedication it took to build and operate the ROV’s. Teams travelled from neighbor islands to compete in Hilo, raising the funds for plane tickets and to ship the ROV’s they had created. Besides the underwater activities the teams must also make presentations and supply technical reports that are also scored.

A scout class ROV getting ready for the water
It takes a lot of work to properly judge the competition. I have noted that the rules and scoresheets just keep getting longer every year. I must tip my hat to the folks that make this competition happen every year, giving the kids a chance for invaluable experience.

Who won? Not really that important, even failure in the pool results in learning, even if the lessons are uncomfortable. The students will take that experience forward in life.

Student Engineering

It is always gratifying to see. Tangles of wire, zip ties, plastic and metal bent and warped into odd shapes, contraptions that occasionally come apart. They may not be pretty, buy they usually work. This is engineering!

Piloting an ROV
Students from Hawai'i Preparatory Academy pilot an ROV in the Big Island Regional MATE ROV Competition
The goal? To build and pilot and underwater ROV through a simulated mission. Not an easy task, actually downright difficult. That the engineers and pilots are elementary, middle and high school students makes the results that much more impressive.

This is the fourth year I have helped to judge the 2012 Big Island Regional MATE ROV Challenge. Back again, it is just too much fun to see what the students come up with. Last year I helped judge the technical presentations and posters. While that is OK, the action is in the pool. This year it was poolside judging, getting a first hand view of the event. I was not alone, Keck provided many of the judges for the 2012 event. An investment in the next generation of engineers and techs that will follow our path.

A student built ROV attempting a mission in the Hilo regional 2012 MATE ROV Competition
Most of the ROV’s followed the usual pattern we have seen each year. A box frame built of PVC pipe with bilge pump motors attached to provide maneuvering capability. Cameras provide the vehicles eyes. Indeed, the operators must control the craft with only the visuals on the display screen, no looking around into the pool.

The mission this year was to survey a shipwreck, a victim of war, an oil tanker lying on the bottom with the potential to create an environmental disaster. The students must survey the wreck, then attempt to remove a sample of the “oil” trapped within. No matter that the “oil tanker” is a frame of PVC pipes at the bottom of a swimming pool, this was a challenging mission.

There were a number of rookie teams this year. It showed, a rough day in the pool for several of the teams. Experience showed, those teams with a couple years of competitions behind them performed much better. It was Kealakehe that won the Ranger class title… again. Give the new guys another chance next year, and I think the competition will be much closer.