Glacier does the robot

awileman@sierrastar.comFebruary 18, 2014 

With technology changing almost daily, Glacier Home School Charter continues to arm its students with the skills necessary to succeed in today's world.

For the students at Glacier who participate in Eric Hagen's underwater robotics class there is no task to big.

When walking in the classroom technology instruments and tools are strung across the tables like a Sunday yard sale as students eagerly immerge themselves into the art of engineering and technology.

Hagen, assistant principal at Glacier, has been teaching his underwater robotics class for the past six years as a way to get students — some as young as 7th grade — in tune with team building skills and technology they might not have otherwise been exposed to.

According to Hagen the underwater robotics class is developed to teach students real-life skills involving the engineering and development of a underwater robotics and Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROV's.

Hagen offers two classes at Glacier, a beginner robotics class for those just getting started and an advanced robotics for those with more experience. The students involved in the program attend class to collaborate together, discussing design ideas about the ROV's they choose to build.

For the sake of the competition, students in the advanced robotics class are split into two teams of four or five and are required to design and assemble a robot capable of completing a set of pre-determined tasks under water.

Over the next several weeks teams will utilize their brainwaves to build the steadiest and most reliable underwater robot they can before heading to the annual MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education) International ROV Competition being held May 3, 2014.

The competition is split into 22 regions, with the local regional competition being the first step, and the competition includes not only schools, but community organization such as 4-H and Boys and Girls clubs.

The theme of this years competition is underwater shipwrecks and during the timed competition students will be required to guide their robot through a series of obstacles and missions in an effort to simulate a real life scenarios similar to what is seen by underwater research and recovery teams.

Hagen uses the program and competition as a team building exercise teaching students how to work together to reach a common goal, much like many people have to do in their daily lives.

"Inevitably your going to run into problems so what I love about it is seeing how they deal with those problems. The dynamics of working together as a team is always fun to watch," Hagen said.

The competing teams will be required to open doors underwater and retrieve certain items using their ROV as an extension of their hands. The students will be able to see underwater using a fiber optics camera attached to the ROV which feeds the information back to the teams control boards above water. The device is manipulated using a control box each team builds themselves all of which require the team to solder and waterproof themselves. The will explore underwater shipwrecks and sinkholes during the contest.

"They are going to be identifying a ship wreck based off some known parameters they get ahead of time, and with their cameras they are going to have look for some identifying features," Hagen said. "They're going to have to retrieve a plate from the shipwreck and on that plate will have the name and date to help identify what ship wreck it is."

The competition is split into four divisions based on each teams skill level. The divisions include scout, navigator, ranger and explorer and for the first time Glacier will be competing in a division other than scout. This year Glacier's two teams will compete in the newly adopted navigator division.

Eighth grader Luke Avent says he wants to be an engineer when he grows up and finds everything about the class fascinating.

"Most things you put in the water are going to either sink or float ... it's tough to get something neutrally buoyant. That's the goal we have and then we can use the motor to move around," Avent said.

Teams in the navigator will not be able to use visual affirmation during the competition and will rely solely on the fiber optic cameras installed on their rigs.

The competition will also involve a presentation where students will have to develop a display board in an effort to sell the robotics they created.

Emily Anderson, a eighth grader at Glacier Home School says her favorite part of the project is the end result when they get to look back a everything the team was able to accomplish together.

"The best part of the competition is the relief afterwards as you slowly progress through the obstacles and complete the missions," Anderson said.

The winners of the navigator, ranger and explorer divisions will advance to the international competition in Michigan held June 26-28 where teams from all over the world, including Japan, Hong Kong, Scotland and Egypt will compete for the right to be crowned the best in ROV engineering.

According to MATE the competition is designed to be an event that challenges students in several different areas and challenges them with problem solving situation in the marine work force.

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