Naperville North team learns through underwater robotics
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Knowledge is more important than money.
Duct tape, floating pool noodles and PVC piping can solve plenty of problems.
It takes a variety of skills to form a successful team.
Putting electrical components in water can be fun!
Finishing 19th in the world ain't bad.
A group of Naperville North High School students learned these lessons and more while competing in an international competition that gave them 15 minutes to steer a handmade underwater vehicle around a pool, completing as many assigned tasks as possible.
"It mimics an oceanographic underwater science lab," said Mark Rowzee, a physics teacher who mentors the students on North's marine engineering team, a subsection of the physics club. "It's a simulation of underwater scientific tasks that have to be performed remotely."
The competition has a mouthful of a name — the Marine Advanced Technology Education International Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition — but it brought about 30 high school teams and a few hundred college teams from across the world to test their expertise at building and operating underwater robotic vehicles.
Naperville North's six-member team finished 19th in the high school-level contest, which also included a technical presentation on the operation of their ROV, or remotely operated vehicle, and a sales pitch to judges about its qualifications to perform tasks such as changing data cables, placing temperature gauges or attaching power cables — all while submerged.
After the school's second year building and competing with an ROV, team members say they're proud of their performance and a few ways they set themselves apart — mainly in their vehicle's low-budget nature and their team's independent spirit.
"Our team was very independent," said Stuart Houston, one of two team members who will return to compete another year. "Mr. Rowzee was less hands-on as a mentor, so that made us different than other teams."
The team also differentiated itself by being thrifty.
The $400 the science department paid for shipping the team's ROV to the June competition near Seattle, Wash., cost twice as much as it did to build it, Rowzee said.
He said he spent about $200 out-of-pocket to buy building materials and a camera to convey the underwater robot's actions to its poolside co-pilots. Components donated from the Shedd Aquarium and pieces borrowed from last year's dismantled ROV helped complete this year's model.
"We had the lowest-budgeting approach," Rowzee said. "The control box we made was a Tupperware container."
Instead of being a source of frustration for Stuart and fellow team members Carissa Cesarotti, Dylan Coupe, Konrad Hausman, Isaac Heine and Julie Ozols, their creation's low cost turned into a source of pride.
"It was the most colorful out there," said Dylan, an incoming senior and the team's power tools expert. "We used pool noodles, PVC piping and duct tape and wiring — real simple materials. Simple, but functional."
Other teams spent $4,000 to $5,000, Rowzee said, but ended up with vehicles that did little more than North's.
"That means we out-engineered them," said Carissa, the team's physics expert who will begin studying physics and math at Cornell University in the fall.
The team advanced to the international competition in June after succeeding at an April regional at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago on the same day as the school's prom.
Building sessions to prepare the ROV for the international level took place at least once a week after school and whenever a couple members could find time, with Carissa advising on design ideas. But there wasn't much time to practice.
"We definitely learned how to work in a crunch," said Konrad, who served as the safety officer and will study chemical engineering at the University of Idaho in the fall.
At the international competition, co-pilots Dylan and Julie ran into some trouble when they accidentally drove the vehicle to the wrong side of the pool.
"All we have to work with is a small screen from our two cameras. We can't look at the pool," said Isaac, who will be heading to Northwestern University in the fall to study mechanical engineering. "It was a good learning experience, but we didn't perform well in terms of scoring points."
Marine engineering team members say the experience was worthwhile, especially the technical presentation, which took on a businesslike atmosphere as squads tried to convince judges acting as potential investors to support their innovations.
"You're trying to introduce someone to this business of engineering," Carissa said. "So it's much more like real life and not just a club in high school."
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