DISL ROV Competition Coordinator Rachel McDonald judges a Navigator team at the 5th annual ROV Competition.

(April 2017) -- Discovery Hall Programs of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab hosted the 5th annual student ROV (remotely operated vehicle) competition on April 21 through the 23. These underwater robots are increasingly used in marine research, industry and exploration.  

DISL serves as the Northern Gulf Coast regional competition site for the international MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education) program.  

At DISL, teams can compete in one of three levels – Scout, Navigator or Ranger - that vary in the complexity of ROV design and mission tasks. The winner of the Ranger division is eligible to compete at the International ROV competition, which is being held in Long Beach, California in June 2017.

For the competition, middle and high school student teams spend hundreds of hours designing, building, testing and learning to fly these underwater robots. The competition also asks teams to consider themselves entrepreneurs, organizing themselves as a company selling their ROV and its services.  During the competition, students demonstrate the ability of their ROV by completing a series of underwater tasks, they showcase their company’s technical specifications document and deliver a presentation about their company and its products.  Throughout the engineering process and the competition, they learn a variety of skills including designing circuits, soldering, CAD software, 3d printing, fundraising, budget management, outreach, technical writing, advertising, speaking to an audience, working effectively as a team and perhaps most importantly, time management.  

Twenty-three teams from Missouri to Mobile competed this year. South Alabama teams included Gulf Shores, Foley, Daphne, UMS-Wright and Alma Bryant High, but teams also came to DISL from Poplar Bluff, Missouri; New Orleans, Berwick, Walker, Shreveport, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Tallahassee and Panama City, Florida; El Dorado, Arkansas; Vicksburg, Mississippi and from across Alabama - Harvest,  Athens, Cottonwood, Newton and Cullman.

The winners were…

In the Scout division Wicksburg Shoreline Protection (Wicksburg High) took 1st place, Subaqueanus Periculum (Poplar Bluff Junior School) took 2nd place, and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Baton Rouge 4H club) took 3rd place.  For the Navigator division, Aggies, Inc. (Fairview High School, AL) came in 1st place, Ursa Apex (Cottonwood High School, AL) came in 2nd place and the SeaCubeCumbers (Surfside Middle School, FL).  For the Ranger division, the Lost Rockets from Limestone County Career Technical School came in 1st place, Spark Industries from Sparkman High placed 2nd and R3 from Rickards High in Tallahassee placed 3rd.  

The Tethered Together award, which recognizes great teamwork, went to Underwater Port Systems from Donnie Bickham Middle School.  The Buoyancy award recognizes a team that perseveres in the face of technical difficulties, went to Spark Industries from Sparkman High.  

This year, in addition to a weekend of competition, students were treated to a chat with the Seawolves, an Explorer (collegiate) level ROV team from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi. The Seawolves faculty mentor, Dr. Kevin McKone and team members spoke about their experiences designing, building, failing and succeeding at the highest levels of the MATE competition. After a day of competition, their message that perseverance is essential and that failures are just as important as successes was well understood by the teams. 

Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Chair of Discovery Hall Programs said, “We have grown from a small local competition with 5 teams in our first year to being a recognized MATE competition site and hosting 23 teams this year.  It’s a great program with a very hands-on style of learning and we are pleased to be able to bring it to the Gulf coast.  As you might imagine, it requires a lot of involvement from the teachers and team mentors, and we thank them for their time and effort.  Teachers tell us it’s a really fun way to bring STEM and engineering skills to the classroom. We are offering a workshop this summer for teachers who may want to get involved. “ 

For more information about DISL’s ROV program, go to their website disl.org/dhp/rov-programs/, or call the DHP office – 251-861-2141, x7515.