Imagine navigating a remotely operated vehicle through an obstacle course of hoops and hurdles while maneuvering it to pick up and relocate plastic rings in a short span of time. Now, imagine doing all of this underwater.
The Arkansas 4-H SeaPerch Challenge, an underwater robotics competition sponsored by the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, was held on April 11 at The Center at Bishop Park in Bryant, where 150 middle and high school students representing 40 teams from 11 counties competed.
“Arkansas 4-H offers many programs that prepare the youth of our great state to be leaders in the future,” said Rob Roedel, director of corporate communications for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. “The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas have a long-standing relationship with Arkansas 4-H, as we strongly support the organization’s tireless dedication to serving Arkansas. The SeaPerch Program is just one of the many great opportunities that Arkansas 4-H provides to the children of our members.”
Lori Canada, extension 4-H STEM coordinator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said, “When you think of STEM activities, you normally don’t think that ‘underwater’ and ‘robotics’ go together. There’s excitement when 4-H members build their robot and get it in the pool. To me, it’s that excitement that is most invigorating for this competition.”
Students built their remotely operated submersible vehicle from more than three dozen parts, including PVC pipe, pool noodles and three 12-volt motors and batteries. Vehicles had to be buoyant as well as sail through two obstacle courses and complete a series of tasks. As part of the competition, students documented their work in a technical design report and gave an oral presentation in front of a panel of judges.
“The students truly become scientists in this competition,” Canada said. “In addition to the engineering design part, there’s the documentation process, figuring out what went wrong and revising it for the next process. All of these things come into play when teams are working together.”
Learning to work in teams was an integral part of the competition.
Tina Melton, a sixth grade science teacher at Sheridan Middle School, coaches one of four teams for Grant County. She said their teams started building robots last October.
“They’ve learned how to work together, how to talk to each other, and how to be kind, in addition to learning engineering and problem-solving skills,” Melton said. “They’ve learned how to be resilient and overcome problems.”
Students competed in one of three divisions: junior for students ages 9 to 14; senior for students ages 15 to 19; and the open division, for any student ages 9 to 19. Teams consisted of two to four members. Coaches included parent volunteers, county extension officers and science teachers.
A first-time competitor, David Vinson of Randolph County said what he learned through the process was relying on his team, Maynard’s SeaPerch. “I’ve learned that helping and assisting others is important because we were all rather lost in the beginning. It was all new to us,” he said.
Teamwork was also important to Madison Andrews of Grant County and her team, the Sea Cows.
“Mentally, our team took a lot of time building each other up, making sure that we knew what we were doing. Physically, we spent the last several months getting our robot ready. This is my second year competing, and I’ve learned a lot about the importance of teamwork,” she said.
This year’s competition theme was space exploration, as competitors used water buoyancy to simulate antigravity similar to NASA training exercises.
“Resiliency, perseverance, communication, problem-solving and teamwork are those things that employers are looking for when they’re wanting to hire somebody,” Canada said. “The experience gained through SeaPerch ultimately increases their employability and life skills.”
Gavin McGinley of Grant County said the best part of the day was having fun with his team. “I learned about teamwork and a couple of other things like soldering. It’s pretty fun. I think our team did good today,” he said. And they did. Gavin’s team, Bassy, placed third in the junior division.
The first-place winners in each division will advance to the International SeaPerch Challenge at the University of Maryland on June 4. The junior division winner was The Wave Shockers from Grant County, with teammates Jaxson Andrews, Luke Douthit, Kaylynn Cogbill and Hannah Nash, and coached by Brad McGinley. The senior division winner was Trumpinator from Madison County, with teammates Colton Edwards and Trevor Edwards, and coached by Darrin Henderson. The open division winner was BZBot2 from Washington County with teammates Ash Wood and Ryuji Adhryan, and coached by Len Wood. Visit 4h.uada.edu to learn more about SeaPerch.