Sitting around a computer screen next to the pool at Yosemite High School, Maddy Noonkester and Will Martyn frown as they speak with coach and teacher Ryan Collings.
“We can’t see what’s going on,” Noonkester tells Collings, as her frown deepens. “There’s something wrong with it.”
“Ok, it can move left and right, but we’re having some trouble,” Martyn adds. “It’s really difficult to tell why it’s not working.”
The conversation is over one thing; a practice run for Everest, their team’s underwater robot.
Designed to simulate robotic technologies used to respond to ocean oil leaks, Everest, along with robots from three teams at Mountain Home Charter School, and one from Glacier High School, competed with more than 60 others in the 16th Annual Monterey Bay Regional ROV Contest in Aptos April 28.
Entered into the contest for the first time this year, in only the second year that robotics has existed at YHS, the Badgers won the Guts and Glory award out of 12 Ranger division teams.
“I think it’s very fitting because the award is basically for sticking with it in the face of obstacles, which was the story of our year,” Collings said. “We’re figuring things out and trying to steep our learning curve. It was nice to have that recognized.”
“I’m very excited to be a part of this,” added Martyn. “I started getting into this last year, and it’s been great. This gives us something new and fun in the sciences that we weren’t used to having before.”
In the competition, teams from various age divisions had their robots, which they all designed and built, perform underwater tasks such as photographing an oil spill location, cap the leaking well head, and clear up contaminated “coral,” represented by plastic pipes.
Those technologies provide a look at how such machines can operate on Jupiter’s moon Europa per the contest’s theme, Hagen said.
“The theme is how the robots encounter inner and outer space,” Hagen said.
In the Scout, or junior high school division, two of Mountain Home’s three teams placed in first out of 38 in the contest.
Team SPIKE, or Super Pink Intelligent Kid Engineers and Team SQUID, or Super Quick Underwater Intelligent Device were in the winner’s circle. Eric Hagen, principal of Glacier and Mountain Home, said Team ICE, or Intelligent Creative Engineers, and Glacier’s high school team also performed strongly.
“Every single team performed way beyond anything they had ever done in our practices,” said Hagen, who first introduced robotics to the two schools when he was hired in 2008. “Every team scored well, and their robots performed better than we anticipated. They all worked together really well ... I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I’m really proud of all of them.”
Hagen welcomed YHS into the competition and helped advise them, including practice runs at the Badger pool.
Both Collings and Hagen said robotics provides hands-on experience in a variety of scientific subjects, while also teaching students how to come up with presentations and market their product, which were parts of the contest.
“No matter what they’re doing, the teamwork, problem solving, working logically through problems, all of that are huge skills they can use in any field they choose,” Collings said.
Collings said YHS would definitely return to the competition next year, and has plans to add a class on drone operation and construction in the future.