Children compete with underwater robots

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LEHI, Utah -- A national program designed to get teens and pre-teens excited about engineering and science has made its way to Utah.

The program is called SeaPerch, and earlier this week more than 200 school children from Ogden to Payson tested out robots in an underwater obstacle course—robots they made themselves.

The robots at the first Utah Regional SeaPerch Competition were remotely operated vehicles, or R.O.V.

One young student was confident in his team’s chances in the competition.

"I think we'll win because we spent a lot of time on the hook part, and I think it will work well while doing the obstacles,” the student said.

Students built their robots using PVC pipe, motors, electronics and flotation devices. Most of the students designed their own hooks to allow their robot to snag the obstacle rings. Another young student described her team’s robot-hook strategy.

“I like the arm we built and how the floaties are staying, so it will keep it balanced,” she said.

Randy Hurd, a mechanical engineering graduate student at BYU, described the competition’s course.

"The underwater challenge is to navigate through an obstacle course and then to retrieve six rings and then bring them back,” he said. “And they get points for each point of their navigation, they get points for the rings, and they get a time bonus based on how quickly they do it."

Students also earned points during the poster competition, where they presented their work and talked with representatives from local engineering companies. The children worked on their robots for about four months. They were mentored by faculty and students from the BYU Splash Lab.

Tadd Truscott, BYU professor of mechanical engineering, said the event gets children excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"They get exposed a little bit to math science, engineering... science and math,” he said. “So they have these concepts they can take with them.  Like the idea of buoyancy or the idea of how electronic circuits work. They don’t necessarily have to become an electrician or an engineer in order to see the usefulness in understanding how electronics work."

The Utah Regional SeaPerch competition was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. The National SeaPerch Challenge takes place May 18 in Indiana.