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There’s just something about communicating with an underwater robot!!

Underwater robots at  Oregon Coast Aquarium OCA photos

Underwater robots at
Oregon Coast Aquarium
OCA photos

OCA underwater robot

Students’ Underwater Robot Returns to Aquarium after Trip Abroad

Newport, Oregon—At first glance, a cube of PVC pipe trailed by a string of wires and cables is a puzzling presence for some Oregon Coast Aquarium visitors in the new exhibit, Secrets of Shipwrecks: Part History. Part Mystery.

In the exhibit, it represents one of the tools researchers use for underwater exploration and archaeology, and pays homage to the fact that people from all walks of life can wield this technology.

The contraption sports scratches and wear, and zip-ties hold repurposed plastic water bottles to its control tether. The underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV for short, is the creation of three Taft High School students under guidance of Science Department Chair Noah Lambie.

Team RUWE (Robotic Underwater Exploration) created the ROV for the Northwest Regional MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education) Competition. Each student assumed a role, with Kyle Macrae as CFO, Hunter Bishop as CEO and Eneki Trujillo as Head Engineer. RUWE took the title in the Ranger Class, qualifying them for the international competition at Newfoundland, Canada.

The opportunity to compete against 60 other teams from universities and prestigious prep schools across the globe presented a tremendous opportunity and set of challenges. Their winnings only covered a portion of the trip, Lambie and the students started a crowdfunding campaign, and sold totes and shirts to make up the difference.

The trio’s previous triumph was in a fresh water pool – not deeper than 12 feet, but the international competition would plunge the students’ robot in Arctic Ocean conditions.

RUWE knew they needed to adjust the robot’s buoyancy control for deep, saline water, and were unsure how their ROV would react to the cold. Lambie reached out to the Aquarium for help. Their first test drive in the Passages of the Deep exhibit deflated the bicycle tube, sending their buoyancy control plans back to the drawing board. Round two proved more successful, and as June drew to a close they headed to Canada.

They found fierce competition; many of the rival ROVs cost more than ten times Taft High’s students’ budget, and were handled by college students. Their innovation and dedication earned them 20th place out of 63 competitors, and the “Bang for the Buck” award.

“This was a huge opportunity for my students,” said Lambie. “They are very capable, natural and intuitive with robotics. Just give them a few projects, a little bit of guidance and let them go.”

The Aquarium offered to exhibit the ROV to honor Team RUWE, and in hopes of inspiring more applied-STEM projects in classrooms and beyond. The ROV will be on display through December of 2016.

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